Diane Morin, Université du Québec à Montréal
This article originally appeared on MontrealGazette.com
During the recent Sochi Winter Olympic Games, thousands of Quebec athletes with intellectual disabilities spent many hours watching their idols, while riveted to a television set or computer screen. They identified with these skiers, skaters and hockey players, whose years of hard work were now culminating in outstanding achievements or, in some cases, bitter disappointments.
They remembered, as well, the unforgettable experiences of the eight Quebec athletes who picked up 16 medals at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February 2013 — not to mention the highly successful Special Olympics Quebec Summer Games in Pointe-Claire last July, which drew 700 athletes from all regions of Quebec.
The distinction between the Paralympics (like those currently taking place in Sochi from March 7 to 16) and the Special Olympics is often lost on the general population. The Paralympics is for athletes with physical disabilities only, while the Special Olympics brings together athletes with intellectual disabilities.
However, recent research conducted in Quebec shows that 79 per cent of people with an intellectual disability also have a physical health problem. However, while they may encounter the same health problems as other people, they often have difficulty expressing their needs. Their use of services is also different. Compared with the general population, persons with an intellectual disability consult less for vision problems, and take more medication. Women, meanwhile, are less likely to take PAP tests. In terms of lifestyle, persons with an intellectual disability get less physical exercise, and experience more problems managing their weight.
What this means is that sport, health and healthy lifestyles are at least as important to people living with an intellectual disability as they are to people with physical disabilities and the general population.
In light of these realities, various institutions and organizations are taking action. There are now 20 rehabilitation centres (CRDITED) in Quebec offering specialized services in adaptation and rehabilitation to thousands of people with an intellectual disability or related developmental disorder. These centres are increasingly focusing, in their various forms of intervention, on detection of physical health problems, promotion of sports, and healthy-lifestyle education.
For its part, Special Olympics Quebec has added a health and healthy-lifestyle component to its sport activities. As a result, three Healthy Athletes clinics were incorporated into the 2013 Summer Games, offering examinations of eyes, feet and teeth. The clinics were managed by health-care professionals who used approaches and tools specially adapted to this clientele.
Sport, health and healthy lifestyles can become powerful vectors in promoting the inclusion and social participation of people with an intellectual disability. We need to rethink our general policies, improve our approaches, diagnose better and intervene more quickly and effectively.
We must also recognize the rights of these individuals, and give them the means to exercise those rights, so that they can continue to pursue their dreams.
Diane Morin is a professor in the Department of Psychology at UQAM and also holder of the Chair of Intellectual Disabilities and Behavioural Disorders. After completing her doctorate in psychology at UQAM, she worked for 20 years as a psychologist serving clients with an intellectual disability (ID). Her research work has been focused on providing concrete solutions to the difficulties encountered by persons with an ID, their loved ones and those helping them.
Diane Morin works closely with research teams both locally and elsewhere. At the same time, she is very involved in the community, sitting on numerous boards of directors and committees of organizations and associations involved with ID in Quebec, Canada and the United States. She is a fellow of the AAIDD (American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities). For more information, visit http://www.chaire-ditc.uqam.ca/