Susan's Blog

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Beauty of Special O? Not Special At All!!!

An essay I wrote just after Nat’s triumphant performance at the Massachusetts Special Olympics State Games this winter appears today on

In case you have to be a subscriber to WBUR’s daily newsletter (and well you should be!), here is the text:

Special Olympics? Not ‘Special’ At All

BOSTON – March 25, 2009 – “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.


You almost got me, that was beautiful, Susan. Lisa

— added by Anonymous on Thursday, March 26, 2009 at 10:03 am

My son was in gymnastics and one of the reason’s he’s been switched to the pool is b/c their isn’t any SO gymnastics for boys. Only “dance” gym for girls… why?? B/c the Down Syndrom kids could be badly injured.

What about the rest of the handicapped children?? Why should they be penalized??

— added by farmwifetwo on Thursday, March 26, 2009 at 10:07 am

Jarrett isn’t in to sports but his art and theater classes are such a tremendous source of pride for him. He loves his drawing and creating and acting and glories in showing off his art in the show at the end of the sessions and acting in the plays the theater class does. My husband says I’ll be the mom crying at his broadway debut yelling that’s my baby!! It’s great to find something that makes them feel just like everyone else..even if it’s only for a while..

— added by cameramom on Friday, March 27, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Great article, though I am surprised you would insinuate your SO coach would place such a heavy value on your son scoring a “bucket!” I was a mom in the stands of the Winter Games and thought your coach was great(I identified your team from the Tabloo photos)! My husband and I both noticed your coach praised the athletes whether they scored 2, 10, or no points! Susan, maybe an article about the people “behind the scenes” of the Special Olympics? Again, thanks for all of the attention you bring to the Special Olympics, Susan!

— added by StongMom4Good on Monday, March 30, 2009 at 8:56 pm

StrongMom — Coach Jim is absolutely amazing. He said “I wish he would get a bucket,” because he knew how hard Nat tries, he could just feel it! He did not mean it in a pressuring sort of way; of course he loves his guys and is proud of them all.

— added by Susan Senator on Monday, March 30, 2009 at 9:44 pm

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