Paralympic & Special Olympics Catchup

March 15, 2010

Today’s an exciting day, as Canada wins their first Winter Paralympic gold in 2010. Congratulations to Brian Mckeever who crossed the finish line to win the gold medal in today’s visually impaired 20km cross-country ski race at the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games! Congratulations also go out to Viviane Forest, Colette Bourgonje, and Josh Dueck who won silver in their respective events as well. It’s both amazing and inspiring what these motivated athletes are able to accomplish. “I first thought after my accident that my disability wasn’t cool,” Dueck said in a release, “this silver medal proves that anything is possible if you work hard at it. I once heard someone say, ‘You never know what will happen in life, so just get on with it.'” I agree with Josh Dueck, congratulations! A full real-time medal count for the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games can be seen here.

In celebration for the Paralympics going on out there, we’ve got our own recognition event at the Developmental Disabilities Association. Today, we recognized our own Special Olympian medalists for a lunch celebration.

We’d like to congratulate Hugh, Mark, and Rosemary for each of their successes at the Special Olympics. Mark and Rosemary are both known in the Special Olympics as two outstanding swimmers, and Hugh has a whole assortment of Special Olympic medals in a variety of activities. Josh Dueck really hits the nail on the head when he says that “anything is possible if you work hard for it.”

Finally, this day is a special day for another reason. It’s also the birthday of our Executive Director, Alanna Hendren (shown above with our Special Olympians). Happy Birthday, Alanna!

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Paralympic and Special Olympic Games

February 19, 2010

Many people confuse the two: Paralympic and Special Olympics. As mentioned in a previous blog post, the Special Olympics were originally created by Eunice Kennedy Shriver who passed away last year. The origin of the Paralympics, however, can be credited to German neurosurgeon Sir Ludwig Guttman. For Eunice Kennedy Shriver, she “recognized that sport is a universal language, one that unites people both on, and off, the field of play, and she challenged everyone to rethink their attitude towards individuals with intellectual disabilities” (from Special Olympics BC).  Unlike Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Sir Ludwig Guttman had a vision that resonates with Mrs. Shriver’s. While working at a spinal cord injury unit near London where Sir Ludwig Guttman treated many war veterans, he recognized the therapeutic values of sports to help treat many disabled war veterans. Additionally, sports helped build both strength and self-respect. The sport events that Sir Ludwig Guttman organized for the war veterans soon grew into competitions, and eventually evolved into todays Paralympic games – a showcase of some of the world’s most capable athletes living with a disability. It’s amazing what obstacles one can overcome simply when one’s abilities are encouraged!


Remembering Rosemary Kennedy

August 18, 2009

RosemaryWith the past week filled with news of Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s funeral and her legacy of championing the Special Olympics, I decided to do some more research into the Kennedy family and their history. Rosemary Kennedy is a particular character I would like to shed some light on. In the past, Alanna had written briefly about the Kennedy family, Rosemary and President John F. Kennedy’s involvement in providing care for people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities in our Fall 2008 edition of the Star Newsletter.

Rosemary Kennedy, the older sister to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was the third child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, and was born in 1918. She was slower to reach her developmental milestones than her overachieving brothers and had difficulties learning. It was believed by some that she was a regular girl suffering from depression, while others believed that she had some mental illness that caused her to become easily agitated. Other sources cite that she had some degree of mental retardation, but diaries written by Rosemary Kennedy reveal that she was a very sociable young woman with many interests.

In 1940, at the age of 22, Rosemary’s behavior became increasingly difficult. She snuck out at night from the convent where she was being educated and often had violent mood swings and tantrums. When she was 23, her father authorized a secret lobotomy on her that was meant to treat Rosemary’s mental health. The result of the experimental lobotomy were catastrophic and left Rosemary much worse than before, permanently incapacitated and unable to care for herself. She was then exiled to a convent in Jefferson, Wisconsin where no one in the family was allowed to contact her.

Through the years that followed, Rosemary was slowly reincorporated into the family. Eunice Kennedy Shriver often visited Rosemary, and in 1968, founded the Special Olympics in Rosemary’s honor. In 1950, Joseph Kennedy made mental retardation the special charitable interest of the Kennedy family foundation that he established in 1950. He and his wife, along with their children, used their considerable wealth and status towards making a difference in the area of special needs. And in January 7, 2005, Rosemary Kennedy passed away due to natural causes at Fort Memorial Hospital in Fort Atkinson,Wisconsin at the age of 86.

I suppose the fact that I had seen my sister swim like a deer in swimming races and do very, very well just always made me think that they could do everything.

– Eunice Kennedy Shriver


Remembering Eunice Kennedy Shriver: Founder of the Special Olympics

August 11, 2009
eunice kennedy shriver

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Photo Credit: Special Olympics

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics and sister to President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Edward Kennedy, passed away this Tuesday morning at age 88, at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Mass. She started the Special Olympics in response to a mother’s call for a summer camp for teens with developmental disabilities as no other camp would accept them. To think that this sports camp in her backyard now has millions of participants all over the globe. She said that Special Olympics teach “that all human beings are created equal in the sense that each has the capacity and a hunger for moral excellence, for friendship and for love. Whatever the speed of our feet or the power of our arms, each of us is capable of these highest virtues. Intelligence does not limit love, nor does wealth produce friendship.”

Please take the time to visit the Eunice Kennedy Shriver website and post a tribute to her at the bottom of the website.

You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your presence you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory.

– Eunice Kennedy Shriver, 1987 Special Olympics World Games, South Bend, Indiana


Developmental Disabilities in China: Part 12

August 4, 2009

This is the last entry to a continued feature multi-part blog post written by our Executive Director, Alanna Hendren. Alanna will be blogging about her recent experience flying off to China as the leader of the People-to-People Psychiatric Services and Developmental Disabilities Delegation. Every Tuesday and Friday, we will be posting about her journey in China, the developmental services offered there, and the people there. To read part 11, click here. To start reading from the beginning of Alanna’s journey in China, click here.

After lunch at the Happiness and Harmony restaurant, we went on to our final professional visit at the “Sunshine Home”. Located in one of Shanghai’s many urban communities, the Sunshine Home “aims to build a community life for the developmentally disabled”. Serving students aged 16 – 35, they provide training in simple housework, rehabilitation, entertainment and help people find jobs in the community.

Our visit began with a tour, conducted by 2 of the students in English. The father of one of the students volunteers to teach the students English, which is a skill some of them hope to use as volunteers or employees during the upcoming Shanghai Expo in 2010. Madame Chen, who operates the center, joined us, beaming with pride at the great job her students were doing. The program offers self-help and pre-vocational skills, Kung Fu, aerobics and Tae Kwon Do. Students all spend time in the fitness center as well.

We visited one class where students were making ornaments. One hallway had the academic work of its students displayed and another room had a case filled with Special Olympics trophies and banners. We saw other students in the computer room, typing in Chinese characters and a room where life-skills were taught. In another room, we were treated to a splendid Kung Fu demonstration by the students. When they insisted that some of us join them, I realized how important it was to be able to understand the leader’s commands, but it was fun. Some of our new friends were top performers at the Special Olympics, with several gold medals between them.

This Sunshine Home opened in July 2005, in a space that was too small. In 2007, with support from District and Municipal governments, they almost doubled their space and expanded to 72 students. Three different groups are supported by the center: 30 attend full time, 6 part-time (when not working in the community), and a group of people with physical disabilities receive home care or visits from volunteers. There are four full time staff. Madame Chen is the administrator and manager (and an inspiration), who is supported by a head teacher, a life-skills teacher and a hygiene teacher. They rely on many volunteers, who seem easier to recruit in China. Factories will sign an agreement with the Sunshine Home to provide volunteers and ECNU also provides support and sends students as volunteers.

Prior to the Sunshine Home, people with developmental disabilities stayed in the home with their families. The goal was to get them out of the house and provide them with educational and behavior programs so the students could show the community their strengths and abilities. Their current mission is to build dignity and self-confidence in their students and they seem to be succeeding wonderfully. Students fall into the mild and moderate range of intellectual disability.

Every morning, everyone spends ½ hour talking about the importance of appropriate behavior, social skills and communication. A big priority at present is learning English in preparation for the 2010 Expo but living skills training, ensuring that each student can cook at least one dish for their family, family planning, sex education and responsibility, rehabilitation training, sports, recreation, singing, dancing and Special Olympics training are also priorities at the Center. In the 7th Special Olympics of Shanghai, Sunshine Home students competed in track and field, badminton, biking and weightlifting. They won two silvers and one gold.

People with behavior problems are trained in appropriate behavior and assigned to another student for role modeling. If the behaviors continue or are extreme, the Center meets with the family and gives them some strategies to implement at home and a warning. If the behavior is too disruptive, then the person can lose their place in the program. They admitted they have a long way to go to fulfill their dream of having a center that’s a “paradise filled with sunshine”.

Referrals are only accepted from their local community, which has a total population of 95,000. Shanghai has 18 administrative districts that are further divided into “communities”. These districts form the focus of an individual’s life, similar to the way villages define one’s identity in rural areas. Births are registered there, social services are centered there, and families generally live close-knit, in close quarters. Their communities, like ours, are noticeably turning grey.

Families volunteer at the Center and reinforce programs at home. Adults receive welfare funding, which is based on where one is born and registered. After the age of 35, adults move on to Adult Day Care and live on welfare – 520 yuan per month (about $160 per month).

There are Sunshine Homes in other districts and they meet once per month for joint training. ECNU provides training to staff and help teach students as well. There is a Sunshine Guiding Center that organizes tours of other provinces and where they learn about fundraising, bigger centers and volunteer mobilization. The Regional Sunshine Guiding Center recruits staff and trains over 200 volunteers per year. Not everyone can be a staff or volunteer, only those with a “heart of love”. The Sunshine Home also had strong ties with the “Citizen’s School” or local community center where locals could study painting, computers, piano, recreation, movies, dancing and offer other senior’s services for very low fees ($0.50). They also have over 100 performance teams or clubs in areas such as T’ai Chi, senior’s fashion, line dancing and music. The clubs compete in tournaments and hold festivals. The Sunshine Home competes in some categories and participates in arts festivals.

The Sunshine Home was so much fun because the students were so engaging and literally ‘moving’. They gave us all little gifts and insisted on group photos before we left, with the volunteer Dad who taught English playing photographer throughout the tour happily obliging. He is a very inspirational man, as is Madame Chen, who is very proud of her students and likely doesn’t take “no” for an answer very often. She has a vision and the ability to make it a reality.

Shanghai is a lot like New York, with non-stop, narrow streets, high buildings, sales, sales, sales, fashion, non-stop action, people and money. It is all about business. Beijing is more like Washington D.C., with priorities like politics, power, research, education, monuments and history. China’s history goes back over 4,000 years, America’s only 233 and Canada’s only 142 years.

When I was packing to come home, I came across a group photo we had taken in Tianamen Square and marveled at what a great time our group had together. On the bus back to our hotel after our farewell dinner, Riley told us that he had toured with many People-to-People professional delegations from many different occupations and, whereas they experienced China through their eyes and ears, what made us different was that we travelled through China with our hearts. He told me one day that being our guide had taught him so much about some great people within his own country that he otherwise would never have met. He also learned a lot about human psychological development and psychiatric practice, as did I. Having outstanding delegates from Canada as well as Belgium, Australia, Germany and the U.S. provided opportunities for many exceptional conversations and more than a few laughs on the journey.


Developmental Disabilities in China: Part 10

July 28, 2009

This is a continued feature multi-part blog post written by our Executive Director, Alanna Hendren. Alanna will be blogging about her recent experience flying off to China as the leader of the People-to-People Psychiatric Services and Developmental Disabilities Delegation. Every Tuesday and Friday, we will be posting about her journey in China, the developmental services offered there, and the people there. To read part 9, click here.

In the afternoon us delegates went to the Peizhi Special School of Lingchuan County and met with Zhu Benzhi, Principal, Wen Shuanling, Vice Principal and Xiong Ying, Vice Principal. The Peizhi School was established in August 2000 for children with developmental disabilities between the ages of 6 and 18. 80% of their students come from rural areas.

The school has 6 classrooms, 4 offices and 4 dormitories. Presently, there are 4 classes of 47 students, 16 of whom live-in, and 12 teachers. It is a ‘training’ school. The goal is to teach the students self-confidence, self-respect, self-reliance, independence and dignity using a developmental approach. The school is across the basketball court from another much larger school that has 1,000 students, aged 6 to 18. Special schools are incorporated into China’s 9-year compulsory education system. They provide handiwork lessons, cooking lessons, gymnastics, painting and exercise. The curriculum also includes math, music, fine arts, Chinese, rehabilitation, life skills and developmental programs. One craft the students have mastered is painting beautiful plates with a unique technique in traditional Chinese patterns.

As with all day programs and schools that we visited, the Special Olympics were a core component of the school’s culture. They emphasize physical activities and showed us several student trophies on display. In the 2002 China Paralympics, 2 students from the school were on the China swim team and won 3 gold and 2 silver medals. The trophies additionally symbolized the efforts of teachers, volunteers and the community, who all worked hard for the students’ success.

Enrollment criteria for the school is based on Guilin Hospital 181 IQ tests. No one is refused admission. Children with mild disabilities are integrated into typical classes. There is no charge for general or special education. Since the play areas are shared with the typical school, children interact during playtimes. All schools also operate summer programs for all kids and these are integrated. The typical and special needs schools also share staff when necessary. Before enrollment, parents present all medical conditions to the school physicians, who then train teachers how to best deal with the child and ensure maximum physical safety and development.

Students were divided into 3 ‘teams’, each with different academic and training objectives. Students with behavioral challenges have one-to-one teachers. In general, school activities are very structured. Although the school was the best in Guilin, they hoped to become more sophisticated like those in Shanghai and Beijing that have special classes for those with autism, Down’s Syndrome and so on. Teachers have general degrees but learn about special needs on the job or through mentoring. They also use university volunteers to help teach communication and social skills. Schools in China are organized and scheduled based on the reality that women work. Classes start at 8:30 and go to 11:30, running every 40 minutes, then there is a lunch and nap break until 2:30, when classes resume until 5 p.m., when mothers line up to pick up their children on their way home from work on foot, by scooter, on bikes and, more rarely with wagons all covered with plastic in the tropical rain.

During the break teachers make sure all students eat, feed those who cannot feed themselves, and lay the children down on mats on the floor, very similar to our toddlers in pre-school. The naps are a great idea, since the children wake up more rested and prepared to learn. Many students live at the school from Monday through Friday, but the parents and school speak regularly. After they graduate, students are referred to a vocational or trade schools if they are capable, or to the China Disabled Federation, who will in turn refer to a rehabilitation center in their area.

There has not been any turnover in teachers at the school since it opened in 2000 because the teachers were selected based on their “love” for special needs people and because their jobs come with an “Iron Rice Bowl”, meaning job security, relatively good wages and benefits. As in Canada, the government funds all education, but the funding is limited so, similar to schools in B.C., they fundraise to buy equipment. As we said good-bye, we presented gifts from all us delegates in addition to a couple of big boxes of P.E. equipment donated by People-to-People in recognition of China’s National Children’s Day. Children’s Day offers kids opportunities to participate in concerts, festivals and be honored by their communities.

Job security for university graduates used to be lifelong, but there are no guarantees any longer. The old days of vicious competition for university entry appear to have become less stressful. While in the past only 4% of high school graduates went on to post-secondary education, today this has increased to 70%. The increase is due to the single-child policy and a rapidly developing advanced education system. The universally improved education of the bulk of the young Chinese population will continue to drive innovation and productivity in the “New China”.