Damola Roberts who won three gold medals in 50m, 100m and relay swimming events at the just concluded 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games, typifies the challenges of growing up in Nigeria with intellectual disabilities. As a child, he was laughed at, made to eat grass and sand and even ignored in school by his sister. Today, he is being celebrated as a hero.
There are many individuals undergoing challenging situations because they suffer from Intellectual Disabilities (ID). It is not uncommon to see those who suffer from ID being treated to unkind remarks, or turned into social outcasts, largely because society has set a stigma on them. It is also not unusual to hear of persons with intellectual disabilities (sometimes called cognitive disabilities or previously, mental retardation) hidden from the public by their families.
Usually, those classified as having intellectual disabilities have certain limitations in mental functioning that affect their communication, social interactions and the ability to take care of themselves. All these limitations cause a child to develop more slowly than a typical child. People with intellectual disabilities may find it difficult to learn some things, but this does not mean they are devoid of good sense or judgement as portrayed in some Nigerian films and television series, where persons with Down Syndrome are caricatured.
ID is not limited to congenital disorder such as Down syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome and Phenylketonuria (PKU). It could be caused by problems at birth due to lack of oxygen, problems during pregnancy caused by drinking alcohol or from an infection like rubella. In some cases, intellectual disabilities could also be from the effect of traumatic brain injury or lead poisoning and from conditions like whooping cough, measles and meningitis.
Actually, the cultural portrayal of people with intellectual disabilities is one of the deeply rooted reasons many people lack an understanding of the contributions they can offer to the society when supported. Many of those with intellectual disabilities understand society does not accept them, so they find comfort and refuge in non-academic pursuits to compensate and defend themselves, and are highly appreciative of what is done for them. This explains why Special Olympics Nigeria (SON) has become a life belt for many individuals and families who had almost given up on themselves.
Since inception in 2001, SON, an affiliate of Special Olympics International has been supporting children and adults with intellectual disabilities, and their families though sports. The organisation offers a platform that gives them the opportunity to experience joy and enhance their social skills while making friendship.
At the just concluded 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games which held in Los Angeles, USA, where Special Olympics Nigeria were Nigeria’s flagbearer, SON participated in Table-Tennis, Athletics, Badminton, Aquatics, Basketball, Cycling and Unified Soccer, and won a total of 71 medals.
The Board Chairman of SON, Victor Osibodu at the welcome reception held for the SON athletes expressed that all individuals suffering from ID need is support. He explained that it was important to understand the needs of people, and giving examples with the successful outing of the team. He therefore noted, “In soccer, our football team defeated countries like Germany, Russia, South Africa and other top teams in the world to win gold. We are proud of the athletes and I want to pledge that our support for the special athletes will continue to grow.”
Coca-Cola, a dedicated supporter and sponsor of SON had included two representatives to feature at the Unified Soccer games of the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games. The representatives offered moral support to the athletes. Speaking on the commitment of the company, Managing Director,
Speaking on the support and partnership between SON and
And just as Martina Navratilova once said, “Disability is a matter of perception. If you can do just one thing well, you are needed by someone.” Our special athletes have done well and we need to continue to support them always.
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