In the 1800’s those with intellectual disabilities were forced into hiding as they were placed in asylums and institutions where they did not receive proper health care. It was in these places that they spent most of their lives. Those with intellectual disabilities were treated as though they were less of a person because of their disability. By the 1960’s people with intellectual disabilities were still hidden from society as their differences were not understood, but were shunned. One of the more prominent families at this time, the Kennedy family, had a member with an intellectual disability that they kept hidden as well. It was after the announcement of this family member that there was a change in how those with disabilities were treated and viewed.
Throughout history individuals with intellectual disabilities have been seen as people who are less than human, and as a consequence have been treated as though they are less than human. Individuals with intellectual disabilities have been sent and locked away, left without proper health care, and hidden from the general public because of fear, and a lack of knowledge about their various disabilities (Weijers). As soon as more doctors and researchers studied these intellectual disabilities in the early 1800’s, what caused them, and how to help the individuals rather than locking them away, there was more acceptance (Weijers). With this slight step towards the acceptance of those with disabilities, movements worldwide towards acceptance began to rise as well such as educational opportunities, better living conditions, and day camps. Although these movements were critical as a starting point towards the equal treatment of those with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics has become the most recognizable and largest driving force behind the movement for equality of those with disabilities worldwide since the 1960’s.
Before the 1800’s those with intellectual disabilities were thought to be incapable of learning. As more research was done and more time was taken to learn about intellectual disabilities it was realized not only that they could learn but that it was important for them to learn. In the 1840’s some of the common perceptions that had formed around those with intellectual disabilities had started to change, and “mental retardation” became its own field of educational interest. Rather than simply looking as those with disabilities as people that should be hidden away from society there was a shift towards thinking of them as people that required more help, especially in the field of education. Social reformers, physicians, and educators were all working on ways to help the intellectually disabled. During this time, it was agreed that education played a vital role in helping those with various disabilities, and because of this special classes in asylums were started as well as boarding schools specifically for the intellectually disabled. In Germany, America, Great Britain and Scotland, Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium, boarding schools for the intellectually disabled were taking off. The different areas, however, had different views and opinions on how the care and education for those with disabilities should take place. In Germany most of the initiatives and the care for those with disabilities was led by the teachers, in America the physicians, in England the philanthropists, and in France the psychiatrists. Though they all agreed that education was crucial in helping those with various special needs, they differed in how they felt it should be achieved. As well as differing in how they felt that education should and could be achieved for those with disabilities, professionals in the field of “mental retardation” had different opinions and feelings about how, why, and who would be able to be educated. In 1839, Fokke Yntes Kingma was only interested in the education of those with mild intellectual disabilities as he felt that they would be able to return to a typical school with other children their age. In 1855. Van Koetsveld was “interested first and foremost in social education: making retarded children fit for domestic association” (Weijer).
Though it was proven that through education children with intellectual disabilities were making improvements, they were doing so inside of boarding schools and inside of asylums. They were still viewed as insane and “feeble-minded” by the general public. In the nineteenth century there were changes in the education of those with disabilities and how professionals within the field viewed them, but societies view on those with intellectual disabilities had not changed. The acceptance in society would not truly be seen until the 1900’s with the start of day camps and other opportunities for those with intellectual disabilities to interact outside of asylums. It was not until people were able to interact with those with intellectual disabilities on a more equal level, rather than inside of the asylums or educational facilities that any true equality or acceptance was seen.
In the early to mid-1900’s we began to see new groups and day camps that were dedicated to helping those with intellectual disabilities. One of the first state wide programs for this was the “Association for the Help of Retarded Children Inc.”, (Mentally Ill Births…) . This program offered help for parents of those with intellectual disabilities as the population of those with intellectual disabilities was growing at a rapid pace. About 14 years after this association was formed, the Kennedy family was involved in the formation of day camps that offered similar support as well as sports and other activities for those with intellectual disabilities.
The first was known as “Timberlawn” in 1962. This was a day camp for children with disabilities to come do recreational activities and spend time outside their homes. Shortly after this Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded her own camp known as Camp Shriver, Camp Shriver started out much like Timberlawn, a welcoming place for those with intellectual disabilities to come play but in 1964, Camp Shriver was expanded to include sports.
Prior to these camps, those with intellectual disabilities were not allowed to play sports as it was believed that that sort of activity would be harmful to their health. In the 1960’s it was realized that there was a need for physical activity and that it was extremely harmful to their health to not allow them to play. Because of this realization, and the studies that caused it, laws that had previously prohibited those with intellectual disabilities from competing in sports were repealed.
As Camp Shriver expanded to include sports and different training for these sports those with various disabilities “could discover that they were not worthless, because they could run and hit and jump as well as anybody” (Shorter, 111). It was expansions such as these that truly grew the acceptance of those with disabilities and “over the next few years , Camp Shriver returned each summer, shaping the attitudes and emotional lives of hundreds of young people with and without intellectual disabilities” (Shriver, 70). It was not only the participants that noticed what they were capable of but also those that watched them. All that were involved in these day camps and programs learned more about the nature of intellectual disabilities and the people who have them rather than the usual stereotypes that society had previously known. It was the breakdown of these stereotypes and the stigma that surrounded those with intellectual disabilities that helped to promote the acceptance and equal treatment of those with intellectual disabilities.
The day camp known as Camp Shriver kept expanding into sports and with the growth into sports became Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s personal project. With the addition of sports to Camp Shiver came the feeling of belonging for many of the athletes as they now had a team they belonged to. In 1968 the first Special Olympics games happened in Chicago and afterwards Eunice Kennedy Shriver knew she had to continue it. The next year she announced a new training program for Special Olympics Athletes and with this the program continued. As it grew, “Special Olympics had become a global phenomenon with new affiliates in the People’s Republic of China, in Egypt, and throughout Europe, Africa, and Latin America” (Shriver, 149). As Special Olympics started people, especially other athletes, began to see those who were competing as someone other than a person with an intellectual disability. They were able to see them as fellow athletes (Special Olympics an Aid). Special Olympics as a program was not only helpful to the Special Olympic athletes in the sense that it was a driving force for equality and the acceptance of those with disabilities, but it also helped on a social level. In a study on Special Olympics, it was found that those who had been participating in Special Olympics for longer periods of time had higher scores in everything that was measured as compared to those who did not participate or had not been participating for as long (Effects of Special Olympics). This test measured different social skills as well as the participants IQ levels.
Special Olympics combined the knowledge gained in the educational movements, the health that was brought through sports as well as the feeling of belonging, and the different aspects of support for parents and families that were seen throughout different groups. With all of these movements put together into one, Special Olympics has been able to successfully be the largest driving force for the equal treatment of those with intellectual disabilities in over 125 different countries. It has been able to change the way that those with intellectual disabilities are seen, how they are interacted with, and how they will be continue to be treated as the movement continues to grow.
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“Special Olympics an Aid to Undeveloped Athletes”, New York Times, 1972. http://33917183.weebly.com/uploads/1/6/6/3/16631506/special_olympics_an_aid.pdf
Elisabeth M. Dykens, Donald J. Cohen. “Effects of Special Olympics International on Social Competence in Persons with Mental Retardation”, Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: accessed November 16th, 2014.
Edward Shorter, The Kennedy Family and the Story of Mental Retardation (Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 2000), 109-142
Father Raymond J. de Souza, “‘Retarded’ no more,” National Post Canada, December 16, 2010, accessed September 7th, 2014. http://www.lexisnexis.com/lnacui2api/api/version1/getDocCui?oc=00240&hnsd=f&hgn=t&lni=51PX-NGW1-DY2T-6533&hns=t&perma=true&hv=t&hl=t&csi=270944%2C270077%2C11059%2C8411&secondRedirectIndicator=true
Ido Weijers, “Educational Initiatives in Mental Retardation in Nineteenth-Century Holland”, History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 40, No.4 (2000): accessed October 5th, 2014, DOI: 10.2307/369725
Timothy Shriver, Fully Alive; Discovering What Matters Most (New York, Sarah Crichton Books, 2014), 70, 149
“A Procession of Them” 2008. http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/moving-walls/10/procession-them
Athletes run in a 50 meter race. 2014. http://escola.britannica.com.br/assembly/135625/Criancas-participam-de-uma-corrida-de-50-metros-durante-as
Athletes supporting each other. 2013. http://www.espnfrontrow.com/2013/09/disney-and-espn-celebrate-new-special-olympics-unified-sports-initiative-with-basketball-soccer-and-flag-football-games/
Eunice Kennedy Shriver and athlete. 1968. http://ugaspecialolympics.org/history.htm