December 18, 2013 | Updated: January 29, 2019

By Shirley L. Johnson

You probably know that Special Olympics Texas provides year-round sports training and competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. But you may not know that Special Olympics Texas also transforms lives. Here is one mom’s story about her own Special Olympics Texas athlete, Ruben.

School had just started in 1969 when a small six-year-old boy named Ruben was placed in my classroom. The police had found Ruben locked up in a chicken coop, living like an animal. He had been there most of his life. He had no inner language, no expressive language or receptive language. All he knew how to do was eat with his fingers and go to the bathroom outdoors. He did not even know how to dress himself.

Intelligence tests placed him in the profoundly intellectually disabled range with an IQ of 19. But I felt he was much smarter because there was too much sparkle in his eyes to be that low!The next school year, he was retested and his IQ had risen to 28. The State was talking about placing Ruben in the State School but I thought that he needed a home and someone to love him. I told them I would take him. I was given six to eight months to prove that he could learn.

I got Ruben as a foster child on December 8, 1970. His IQ was retested the next spring. I was so scared I was going to lose him, but he had come up to a 68 IQ and I have had him ever since!

Q: How has Special Olympics Texas helped Ruben?

Through Special Olympics, Ruben started talking more. He enhanced his vocabulary and his speech and socialization skills improved. His physical strength and ability increased, even though Ruben has cerebral palsy involving his right side.

When he started with Special Olympics, he could not use his right arm or hand. But he started playing basketball and softball—sports where he had to use both of his arms and hands. During a softball game one summer, Ruben caught the softball out in center field for the first time. He had finally learned to use both hands together. Ruben started yelling “I caught it, I caught it,” while jumping up and down. We yelled at him to throw the ball, but he was too excited that he had caught the ball and someone got a homerun on him!

Q: Are there other Special Olympics Texas programs that have helped Ruben?

The Healthy Athletes program has been a godsend.

Ruben started needing glasses in his late 30s, but Medicaid will only pay for cheap, poorly made glasses. The Healthy Athletes Program tested Ruben for a free pair of glasses. When they came in the mail, Ruben put them on, and started looking all around. He kept looking and staring. I started getting scared something was wrong with the glasses. Then Ruben said, “I can see. I can see.” There is a 100 percent difference in better made glasses provided by the Healthy Athletes Program compared to the cheaply made glasses Medicaid provides.

Several years ago, Ruben needed hearing aids. The Healthy Athletes Program provided him with two hearing aids each costing over $4,000. Medicaid would never do this. These new hearing aids greatly improved Ruben’s hearing, which in turn improved his speech. To this day, he still wears these hearing aids.

Q: Where would Ruben be without Special Olympics Texas?

Without Special Olympics Ruben would not be functioning at a mild level of Intellectual Disability, nor would he have experienced and accomplished everything he has through Special Olympics. He would not be able to hold a job or take care of himself.

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