The Playbook
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The Playbook

Getting in the Game as a Sibling

I remember being about ten years old when my mother told me the story of how Eunice Kennedy Shriver started Special Olympics. It was the story of a woman who saw the way the world was not accepting of her sister Rosemary, who had intellectual disabilities. As a young girl who had grown up seeing the ways that the world was not accepting of my sister, Erin, who has autism, Eunice Kennedy Shriver became my role model.

When my mother started the local Special Olympics team in my small hometown, it was an opportunity for her Erin to have a sports activity that was hers. It was Erin’s chance to train, compete, and achieve. As her sibling, I was not asked to just cheer her on as a fan in the stands; I was recruited to get in the game.

I am part of the first wave of what we call the “Unified Generation”. This generation has grown up playing Special Olympics Unified Sports. Unified Sports brings together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to play and train together as a team. I was ten when I stepped onto a track and ran in my first Unified relay and I continued to be a Unified Partner and coach through high school.

Inclusion was the norm in my family, and Unified Sports made me believe we could make it the norm everywhere.

I never went to a support group or a therapist to talk about the challenges of having a sister with a disability (and there can be plenty). Special Olympics was my support network. I was surrounded by families that were like mine. I could hang out with other sibling Unified Partners I could relate to. I made friends with peers with intellectual disabilities who were not my sibling. Special Olympics fostered a sense of connectedness in a society that often isolated us for being different.

Special Olympics also provided me with a way to introduce my friends to intellectual disability. My best friend in high school became Erin’s first Unified cycling partner and they formed a bond and friendship independent of me. Other friends volunteered at Regional or State Games and cheered us on. Through Special Olympics, I could be the connector between my family and the disability community to which we belong, and my peers who had little experience with disability.

I could offer the invitation, as Eunice Kennedy Shriver once did, for my peers to “Come to our world, where we are free!” Free of bullying, free of prejudice, free of isolation.

My story is not the only one. Other siblings around the world have found a similar sense of belonging and a platform to promote inclusion through Special Olympics.

Now with the partnership of the Samuel Family Foundation, Special Olympics is able to proactively reach out to siblings. We will create resources specifically for siblings and for family groups and Special Olympics Programs who will be working with siblings. We are also starting an exciting new research project that will help us better understand sibling needs and their experiences in Special Olympics. Finally, we will provide micro-grant funds to siblings who have projects to make their schools and communities more inclusive.

On this Sibling Day, I’m grateful for my family for shaping me into the person that I am and for the role that I and other siblings can play in creating a Unified world. Together with Special Olympics athletes, family members, teachers, coaches, and all who support our movement, we can continue Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision to make the world better for her sister, for my sister, and for all of us.

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Using the power of sports as our driver, we are a global social movement dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

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Meghan Hussey

Meghan Hussey

Global disability inclusion & human rights advocate. Unified Schools @SpecialOlympics. Past @MitchellScholar & @FulbrightSchlrs. Sibling. INFJ. All views my own

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