Support the news

Special Olympics? Not 'Special' At All

This article is more than 10 years old.

"I just want him to get a bucket," my son's Special Olympics basketball coach recently said about my son Nat, who never seemed to make baskets, buckets, or any other kind of scoring point in his games.

That never actually mattered to us, considering the severity of Nat's autism. We're just thrilled that he wants to be on the court, period.

But after President Obama's Special Olympics faux pas, I found myself thinking honestly about it all. What exactly is it that makes us shlep all over the state to see Nat play the way he does?

I realized that sometimes I do want Nat to get a basket. But, having a child who develops outside of the normal milestones and expectations, you develop a keen sense of priority. Yet, there is this small secret part of me that gets fed up with having to have so much damned perspective. Sometimes, in the slow and frayed moments of the day, I get a little tired of shrugging things off.

Special Olympics is one of those things I can't shrug off. I want the president and everyone else to get it. I want people to know what's so special about the Special Olympics; that it's not some big, dumb feel-good fest where everybody gets a medal for doing nothing. There are divisions, there are points, there are wins and losses. There are rivalries. There are obnoxious parents.

But there are also things you don't usually see in "typical" sporting events. Like how during one game, all the action stopped while everyone on both teams let a frail elderly player just take shot after shot.

Or the way Nat suddenly figured out how to make a basket, then and there, during the State Games.

Oh, God, that look on his face. That pride. Me, too. You go, Nat.

'Get 'em,' I wanted to snarl.

At last, I could be the arrogant, obnoxious sports mother whose kid was a star! I could be just like every other parent of the high-scoring kid on the team, anywhere else in the world.

I think that's pretty much all there is to it. The thing about Special Olympics is: You're not special at all. You get to be just like everyone else.

Susan Senator is the mother of an autistic teen and the author of "The Autism Mom's Survival Guide: Creating a Balanced and Happy Life while Raising a Child with Autism," coming in April 2010.

This program aired on March 25, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

+Join the discussion

Support the news