There are so many ways in which personal choice is affected in situations that involve decisions to use services that are designed specifically for children and adults with intellectual / developmental disabilities. It is a very personal choice and one that (I dare say) most parents don’t take lightly. I know that I have struggled with this ever since my son was born. The decision to fight for what amounted to forced inclusion in school, whether to use respite care providers rather than general daycare, segregated overnight / summer camps, and yes, Special Olympics were each cause for heated debates with myself (as a single parent).
In later years, Josh made his own preferences clear. We tried a segregated overnight camp when he was around 20 years old. When I asked if he had fun he said “Yes!” When I asked if he wanted to go back the next summer he said, “Next time I want to go with the regular kids.” It’s heartbreaking for me to think my son has an ounce of prejudice in him, but in this case, I believe what he was trying to communicate was not really discrimination against his peers but a realization that it was a “special” camp. He had a similar reaction to Special Olympics. Even though he enjoyed the activity (soccer) and that he was participating with one of his friends, he didn’t like that all the other athletes had trouble communicating or understanding him.
He didn’t feel comfortable. That is what drives my decision not to participate in some segregated activities – not my personal feelings about the theory of inclusion. I know many families who love and enjoy their experiences with Special Olympics, and depend on the availability of ‘sheltered’ work experiences for their loved ones. I would NEVER even think of passing judgment on the choices they make for their family. All I have to do is browse Facebook and Twitter to see the smiles of adults that I’ve come to love (and total strangers) to understand and appreciate the benefits of programs designed for our children.