My name is Jim Gleason, I am a physical therapist and have been very fortunate to work in the field of developmental disabilities since 1976. Actually, I began during the summers of my high school and college years when I worked in recreation and direct support for people with disabilities at summer camps. On occasion I would be a lifeguard for Special Olympics swimming events or volunteer at track and field events where I saw firsthand the joy and sense of accomplishment that participants experienced.

At the same time we could see that athletes were running in ill-fitting shoes, or didn’t know proper ways to warm-up for exercise or stretch out their muscles.

Beyond sports

What most people don’t know is that Special Olympics is also a health promotion activity. In the 1990s, a local dentist, Steve Perlman, and other health professionals recognized that many people attending Special Olympics events were in pain; had untreated tooth and gum disease, could not see the finish line, could not hear the starting pistol, and had many untreated health conditions. Something had to be done.

Healthy Athletes Begins

Healthy Athletes (HA) was established to provide health screenings and education for athletes, families, and coaches and is now a major part of Special Olympics events. HA includes screenings for: dental, vision, hearing, podiatry, physical therapy, health promotion and health physicals. This effort is also an important training ground for health professionals and students to learn about the needs of persons with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) and advocate that all health professionals be involved in the health promotion of people with ID/D in their routine practice.

Screenings offered today

Here in Massachusetts we offer Healthy Athletes health screenings at the State Winter and Summer Games, and at many local events throughout the year. At the State Winter Games in the Worcester Area on March 10, 2012, we will be offering screenings at Auburn High School and other locations.

This program has helped me see both here in Massachusetts and around the world that there continues to be tremendous need to address the health needs of people with disabilities. Over the next month I will introduce an athlete in the program as well as another health professional who feel the program has made a difference in their lives.

Join us to learn more.

About the author

Jim Gleason is an Associate Director of the Shriver Center University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) and a faculty member of the UMMS Shriver LEND Program.Jim Gleason