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Teen Cut From Special Olympics - Autistic Youth Punched Coaches

You know kids with autism are in trouble when the Special Olympics World Games doesn't even recognize the disability. Here are a couple quotes from the article that puts my hairs on end:

" 'The athletes signed a code of conduct ... They are like any other human being; they are responsible for their actions,' Schmutz said."

[even with autism, you are expected to not have autism]

" 'It would be impossible to accommodate every single athlete's need,'said Jim Schmutz, a spokesman for Special Olympics North America in Washington. 'You can just imagine the pains it took to make [the international games] a safe and organized event.' "

[yeah, that ADA stuff is for the birds]

[By Chris Jones.]
Story Here

It was the beginning of June, and Matthew Barnum of Wantagh kept chanting “Dublin Monday, Dublin Monday” as he walked through his home. He was only days away from going to the biggest event in Special Olympics: the world games in Ireland.
Barnum, 16, has autism, a disorder that causes him to have trouble expressing himself and sometimes to punch other people. Even though he hadn't hit anyone for months, his parents said, two days before Barnum was scheduled to leave for Dublin, he hit at least two coaches repeatedly, and one said the youngster broke one of the coach's fingers.
That's when Special Olympics officials told Barnum he'd have to stay home. Ever since, he has been much more aggressive, his parents said.

Barnum's parents said the whole incident would have been avoided if the teen, a sprinter and long jumper, had a coach certified to work with autistic athletes. The family asked for such a coach, but Special Olympics turned down the request, saying the coaches had enough experience with autistic athletes to work with him.
Now skeptics are questioning why Special Olympics won't accommodate the needs of autistic participants when it's an organization for people with special needs.
“Special Olympics' requirements are fair, everyone is just not eligible to do what they want to do,” said Neil Johnson, president of the New York Special Olympics. “I could want to be a professional basketball player, but it doesn't mean I can ... It's just not viable.”
An exception was made for a Wading River family. Annmarie Tongue was first told she could not travel to Dublin with her 15-year-old autistic son, Scott, to help him ease his travel anxiety. But after she wrote several letters to local and national Special Olympics officials and made the situation public through the media, they renegotiated with Tongue and
granted her request.
“If they're going to have autistic kids, they have special needs,” Tongue said. “The organization does some wonderful things, and there are people that benefit tremendously from it. They just need to be aware of the different needs.”
Special Olympics' mission is to give mentally challenged individuals of all ages opportunities to gain physical fitness and confidence. So far there are more than 1 million athletes from 150 countries who participate, but the organization estimates its efforts reach less than 1 percent of the estimated 170 million people around the world with mental retardation. Their participation is made possible via private donations and sponsorships.
“It would be impossible to accommodate every single athlete's need,” said Jim Schmutz, a spokesman for Special Olympics North America in Washington. “You can just imagine the pains it took to make [the international games] a safe and organized event.”
Team New York had 27 athletes and six coaches travel to Dublin. One of the athletes' requirements was to be able to go three weeks without contact with their families or personal aides. If they qualified for the games but couldn't comply with the rules, Special Olympics officials said they couldn't go.
Barnum's parents said they were uncomfortable about the travel requirement, but chose to let their son go. They said Barnum had competed in local and regional Special Olympics track and field events for several years and he loved to compete.
Johnson made the decision to not allow Barnum to compete after his coaches said he hit them. James Barnum, Matthew's father, said no one knew what had provoked the incident.
New York Special Olympics spokesman Jim Smith said one coach said Matthew hit him 15 times, while another coach said the youngster broke his finger. Smith would not identify either of the coaches, who are volunteers.
Dan McCarthy, senior director for organization development of Special Olympics North America, said his organization reviewed the incidents and upheld the decision of the New York team not to allow Barnum to compete.
“The athletes signed a code of conduct ... They are like any other human being; they are responsible for their actions,” Schmutz said.
McCarthy said he didn't allow his teenage son, who also is autistic, to compete in the Dublin games because he felt the travel restrictions were unreasonable. “Parents make the decision all the time not to let their children go because of the aide situation,” McCarthy said. “It's a fact of life in Special Olympics.”

Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.

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