Creating Sport Opportunities for Persons with Profound Disabilities: Special Olympics Motor Activities Training Program

Article excerpt

Martin Block is director of Special Olympics International's Motor Activities Training Program. He is also an assistant professor in the Department of Human Services, Curry School of Virginia in Charlottesville. His main interest area lies in physical education for children with severe disabilities.

Over the past 10 years there has been an explosion of sport opportunities for persons with disabilities. For example, many Palaestra authors have reported how individuals with disabilities have trained and competed in such diverse individual, team, or lifetime leisure sports as track and field, swimming, golf, tennis, sailing, rock climbing, basketball, and softball, just to name a few. Coaches, physical educators, and recreators alike are coming to the realizations that sport participation by persons with disabilities can provide the same physical and socioemotional benefits that it provides persons without disabilities (Sherril, 1984).

One group of individuals with disabilities that generally has not benefited from these new sport opportunities are those with profound disabilities. Thompson and Guess (1989) recently characterized persons with profound disabilities (as opposed to the more encompassing term of severe handicaps) as those individuals who posses (a) extremely limited awareness due to cognitive impairments, (b) extremely limited response repertoires due to physical disabilities, (c) extremely limited or no communication skills, and (d) concomitant problems such as sensory deficits and/or medical complications. Physical education and recreation programs designed for such individuals have often emphasized physical therapy techniques such as range of motion, relaxation, and neurodevelopmental therapy, or passive recreation activities such as watching television, listening to the radio, or playing board games. For example, Auxter and Pyfer (1989) stressed physical and occupational therapy techniques in modifying activities for persons with profound mental retardation; Moon and Bunker (1987) emphasized hobbies, games, and motor skill development in recreational programming for persons with profound handicaps more than participation in sport activities.

While such activities are not inappropriate or harmful for persons with profound disabilities, they constitute only a small part of a comprehensive physical education or recreation program as defined by PL 94-142. This law clearly defines physical education as "the development of physical and motor fitness; fundamental motor skills and patterns; and skills in aquatics, dance, and individual and group games and sports including intramural and lifetime sports" (Federal Register, Aug. 7, 1977,p.42480). Recreation activities include individual and team sports, as well as hobbies (e.g., exercising, arts and crafts, listening to music) and games (e.g., board games, card games, video games). Furthermore, recreation differs from physical education in that an individual chooses to participate in recreational activities based on personal preferences and enjoyment (Moon & Bunker, 1987). Sport training and participation are clearly important aspects of both physical education and recreational programming. There is need to develop more appropriate motor and sport training programs for persons with profound disabilities that can become part of comprehensive physical education or recreation programs.

Special Olympics has always strived to provide sport training and competition opportunities for persons with mental retardation regardless of their abilities. This effort originally led to the creation of Special Olympics Developmental Sports Program (Special Olympics, 1985). However, based on field testing of the program, activities were not sport specific or appropriate for athletes with the most profound handicaps[sup(1). Therefore, Special Olympics developed a new program, Motor Activities Training Program (MATP), to provide persons with profound disabilities opportunities to experience all the joys and excitement of sport training and participation. …