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A prescription for SOMOSM


A medical doctor’s advice sends family to

Special Olympics Missouri

Story and graphic by Libby Knox


Families of children with developmental disabilities are no strangers to prescription slips. But the one Aimee Davidson took from her son’s doctor was the most unusual she’d ever seen.


That’s because the prescription simply said, “Special Olympics.”


A sense of relief fell over Aimee, who has trotted her son in and out of doctor’s offices and clinics for years, searching for resources to help her eight-year-old, Morgan, improve his social and language skills, among other challenges. This recommendation was entirely different than she expected.



Doctor’s Orders


The Davidsons, of St. Charles County, Missouri, have been seeing Dr. Rolanda Maxim at the Knights of Columbus Developmental Center of SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis since July 2009.


“The Knights of Columbus Center at Cardinal Glennon is renowned as the leading source for developmental disabilities,” explains Aimee. “We were on a waiting list for a long time. We’ve had diagnostic testing and follow-up visits there for Morgan.”


Last year, Dr. Maxim explained to Aimee that Morgan was not in the autism spectrum as Aimee suspected. (Morgan had seen three other specialists who gave such a diagnosis.) Dr. Maxim had a different idea about Morgan’s language difficulties and poor social interaction skills.


“Dr. Maxim asked us if we’ve thought about Special Olympics,” Aimee said. “I remember thinking severe disabilities…in a wheelchair, right? Wasn’t that what Special Olympics was for?


“Dr. Maxim told us Morgan would qualify for Special Olympics, and she wrote it on her prescription pad,” Aimee recalls. “She also handed me the MO-FEAT book and highlighted Special Olympics in the resource directory.”


Aimee questioned Dr. Maxim about Special Olympics, thinking it was a one-day event. Dr. Maxim explained it was a year-round program with sports and individual training that would help Morgan be active in organized sports and give him confidence.


“Morgan’s been begging for tennis lessons, and he wants to play golf,” Aimee says. “But we don’t know how to play golf, so maybe Special Olympics can teach him.”


Dr. Maxim’s prescription for Special Olympics complements a medical treatment program she has developed for Morgan. “She has a team of people behind her. These medical teams have really opened doors for us,” Aimee says.



A Mother’s Salute to the Knights of Columbus


Aimee and her family are delighted with the resources and medical care they’ve received at the Knights of Columbus Developmental Center at Cardinal Glennon Medical Center. For children like Morgan, who have developmental delays and communication struggles, the medical team at the center has been a real blessing.


“I ran into some Knights of Columbus members taking donations outside a store one day,” Aimee relates. “I went up to them and told them I never realized all you do – it’s been a real lifesaver for us,” she says. “If they (the Knights of Columbus) weren’t there, I wouldn’t have Morgan on the right track.”



Dad’s Introduction to Special Olympics Was a Cold One


Aimee’s husband, Curt, already had some knowledge about Special Olympics, but not for personal reasons. “Ironically, through the carpenters’ union, he had done the Polar Plunge in Lake St. Louis earlier this year,” Aimee relates. “He did it because it was a good cause, and now it’s helping us.”



Becoming a Special Olympics Missouri Athlete


Armed with a prescription for SOMO, and a three-page report about Morgan, Aimee contacted Matt Lauer, St. Louis area director for Special Olympics Missouri. Matt directs Morgan’s application to become a SOMO athlete, and gives the family additional resources to get them started in the program.


Because he is age 8, Morgan can qualify for regular Special Olympics teams. Some athletes compete in their favorite sport, and some compete in multiple sports. In addition, SOMO runs a week-long summer camp that exposes athletes to different sports so they can find the right fit. SOMO also offers health, dental and optometry screenings through the Healthy Athletes initiative. And for younger children, SOMO has begun Young Athletes, a program that helps 3-7 year-olds with physical activity, balance, coordination and social interaction.


Training and competition opportunities are available for every athlete, regardless of gender, age or ability. Aimee plans to make use of these opportunities for Morgan.

Special Olympics gives Morgan a chance to enjoy sports like his twin brother does.


Though he’s just getting started with Special Olympics Missouri, Morgan looks forward to trying new sports.


“He’s very excited,” Aimee says. “It’s a blessing we got that prescription.”


Pediatrician prescribes Special Olympics

for children

A leading developmental pediatrician believes SOMO programs are a ‘natural way of improving someone’s life’

Dr. Rolanda Maxim encourages parents and doctors to take a different perspective in helping children with developmental challenges improve their social, gross motor and communications skills. And she thinks Special Olympics is a program that doctors and parents can agree on.

That’s exactly why Dr. Maxim, medical director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at the Knights of Columbus Developmental Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis, wrote a prescription for Special Olympics Missouri for eight-year-old Morgan Davidson.

 “We appreciate Special Olympics because, instead of addressing problems with medications, we can use natural ways of improving someone’s life,” Dr. Maxim explains.

“We know there is a great connection between sports and self-esteem. When a child has social skills deficits, anxiety, poor communication skills and trouble with gross motor activities, the child can really benefit from Special Olympics,” she says. “I tell parents that Special Olympics is a natural way to improve your child’s social skills and self-confidence…it’s one of the most helpful recreation activities I always recommend.”

Developmental pediatrics looks at the whole child

“As developmental pediatricians, we are trained to look at the child not like a patient but like a person – with medical needs, but also in the context of their family and their school. We also look at their dreams, their hopes and their fears,” Dr. Maxim says. “We are very comprehensive in our evaluations.”

Dr. Maxim credits Special Olympics with helping children address many of those needs with fitness and sports training, along with a healthy dose of socialization with fun activities. She cites another child she referred to Special Olympics to help him overcome attention problems and self-esteem issues. “He joined Special Olympics and a whole world opened up to him,” she explains. “He got medals, he made friends, his self-esteem improved, and he came off some of his medications.”

When Morgan Davidson’s family came to Dr. Maxim, they believed Morgan had a form of Asperger’s Syndrome, but Dr. Maxim’s evaluation concluded otherwise. “Not every child who doesn’t have friends has a form of autism. I helped his mom look at it in another perspective -- I opened another door for her. She was very happy about that,” Dr. Maxim says. (we need written authorization from the mother to release any statement about Morgan)

With dramatic increases in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities, Dr. Maxim is aware of the medical community’s need to prepare for a greater demand for medical and developmental services for these children.

She sees primary care physicians and pediatricians starting to take the lead with children with developmental disabilities, becoming more knowledgeable about natural therapies like Special Olympics. “We (developmental pediatricians) will become the consultants and provide specialized services,” she explains. “And we’ll continue to prescribe Special Olympics.”

Recommending Special Olympics is ‘second nature’

“I was trained in developmental and behavior pediatrics in New England, at Brown University in Rhode Island, where children had a multidisciplinary evaluation, so I actually learned primarily from physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and special educators. We worked as a team. So that’s why recommending Special Olympics was second nature; it was automatic. It was one of the key recommendations for a child with special needs,” Dr. Maxim admits.

But not all medical trainees have the same experience.

Dr. Maxim, also an associate professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University School of Medicine, says that her colleagues and students in the medical community need to recognize the benefits of Special Olympics programs and training.

“I was amazed that, when we trained residents, many times they’re not aware of the Special Olympics programs. Therapists are aware, but we need to be much more aggressive in educating the new generation of medical professionals, especially pediatricians and other primary care physicians.”

Reaching families with the proper resources

Getting the word out to families is also an issue. “We are very concerned about the media promoting information that’s not evidence-based,” asserts Dr. Maxim.

Dr. Maxim has taken a lead role in the Parents as Teachers (PAT) program, which has a home-based developmental screening approach and provides guidance for parents of children 0-5 in many states in the U.S. as well as in other countries. The National Center of PAT, which was started in St. Louis, has been able to secure federal funding with the help of Senator Kit Bond of Missouri.

She also provides parents with the Missouri Families for Effective Autism Treatment (MO-FEAT) resource directory, and makes sure that Special Olympics Missouri is prominently listed there, as well as in materials distributed by Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center.

The support of the Knights of Columbus makes it possible

“We’re very grateful to SSM Cardinal Glennon (Medical Center) and the Knights of Columbus because they are very supportive of children with disabilities,” says Dr. Maxim.

The Knights of Columbus, also a chief supporter of Special Olympics Missouri, lent its support to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in 1984, creating the Knights of Columbus Developmental Center there.

“With their funds, this center was created, and they continuously support us,” explains Dr. Maxim. “They give us financial support and they also promote what we’re doing in the community.” 

Dr. Maxim says the Knights of Columbus Developmental Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon is also considering a Down syndrome clinic. As a student at Brown University School of Medicine, Dr. Maxim studied under Dr. Siegfried Pueschel, a renowned expert and advocate for people with Down syndrome.

Prescriptions make a big impact

“Pediatricians don’t realize the impact they can make in a child’s life by writing a prescription, as a medical prescription is one of the most powerful messages therapists and educators can get,” Dr. Maxim says.

“I can write seven pages of evaluations, but one small prescription can make a greater impact than my whole evaluation. It can make a big difference in a child’s life.”

Dr. Maxim admits she’s taken some unusual approaches in recommending therapies for children. “I write prescriptions for ice cream three times a day to increase calorie intake, dog therapy to improve behavior, and of course, Special Olympics to improve motor coordination and social skills. Those prescriptions have had as much, if not more, impact as psycho stimulants or antianxiety medications, and they improved the quality of life of the child and of the whole family.”

“I would encourage pediatricians to listen to parents’ requests and not hesitate to give their patients a prescription for Special Olympics.”


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