PARENTS with intellectually disabled children should not hide them at home because of embarrassment or ignorance.
Some of these parents may not be aware that if their children are unable to excel academically, then the children could try out sports.
Special Olympics Perak (SOP) president Datuk Dr Ramanathan Ramiah said he was not merely talking about any form of sports, but a chance for them to participate in the Special Olympics nationally and internationally.
The Raja Permaisuri Bainun hospital’s orthopedic services head and senior consultant said his aim was to let parents know that there is an avenue for such special children and it was definitely not by neglecting them.
“Because we must accept the fact that 3% of the population will be special, therefore the remaining 97% are supposed to support them.
“From our experiences, special children or adults that participate in sports, especially in the Special Olympics, are more confident and happier,” he said during an interview at his office at the hospital recently.
Dr Ramanathan explained the difference between Olympics, Paralympics and Special Olympics.
He said the Olympics was for the elite athletes and the Paralympics was for physically handicapped elite athletes, while the Special Olympics, which started worldwide in 1960, was for the intellectually disabled.
“This competitive sports event is special because we are not talking about elitism but about participation, giving them an opportunity and making them feel great.
“Everybody is a winner. For example, if eight people are participating in a running event, the first three get medals, while the rest get a ribbon each.
“When such recognition is given to them, they are happy that they had achieved something and the participants proudly display their medals and ribbons at home,” he added.
However, Dr Ramanathan said they were disappointed with the age limit set by the Special Olympics of Malaysia, which is now set at between 15 and 25 years old, for the upcoming national games in May at Terengganu.
“There should not be any age limit for the games. Some of the athletes who have been practising so hard were so sad to learn that they could not participate.
“Therefore, we at SOP are urging the national body to reconsider the decision on the age limit,” he added.
SOP deputy president Dr A. Winson, who is a sports physician, said the international body had also adopted the Unified Sports programme which is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competitions.
He said the Unified Sports initiative joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.
“In a simple principle of training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.
“In Unified Sports, the teams are made up of people of similar age and ability, which makes the game more challenging and exciting,” he added.
SOP Perak vice-president Ho Ah Ngen, who has a 28-year-old intellectually disabled son said the involvement of parents were of utmost importance.
He said once the parents exposed their children to such sports, they too tend to get very involved by cheering for their children who are taking part.
The former teacher, who has been actively involved in Sekolah Semangat Maju in Kampung Tawas run by the Perak Association for the Intellectually Disabled, said the participants would normally feel happy, excited and accepted.
He said even when they were on the track running, their eyes would be on their parents and family members to see if they were cheering or clapping for them.
He said generally, the public sometimes makes it difficult for parents to bring their children out because some stare at them as if they were aliens.
“After having a son who is intellectually disabled, I thought that I have to do something for those like him.
“So that was when I got involved with the NGO and the school, as well as the SOP,” he added.