Special Olympics: Mom upset that 9-year-old autistic son may not be allowed to participate

Monday, November 4, 2019
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A Columbia County mom is outraged after getting a letter from the school saying her 9-year-old autistic son can not take part in the next Special Olympics.

She says school officials told her he didn't meet the threshold of having an "intellectual disability". It's always been in place but rarely enforced. The rule has always been students with an IQ below 70 can participate.

Erika Wright couldn't fathom the thought of how her son would react to losing the Special Olympics.

Erika Wright has her hands full. All of it is worth it when she sees smiles like this.

"Ribbons. A ribbon yes!! Do you love getting your ribbon? Yes!"

Her 9-year-old son with autism lights up when he's at the Special Olympics.

"Every year that it's that time of the year, it's Jude's going to Special Olympics, Jude's a winner, Jude's this, Jude's that. He talks about himself in third person. I feel like it really boosts his confidence on those days, he'll soar high," said Wright.

That's why she was heartbroken.

"I don't think I have the words for it," said Wright.

After getting a letter stating "Because your third-grader is able to participate in PE, your child will not be invited to Special Olympics this year."

"I honestly didn't know how I was going to one tell him, but also I didn't think it was fair to him or any of the kids really because they have been participating in this every year," said Wright.

Director of special services, Teri Pettyjohn, says the conversation was about when to transition special needs students on the regular curriculum -out- of special needs programs, like the Special Olympics.

"The fun event is there for them and that is what it's all about. We want every student who enjoys it and belongs out there,” said Pettyjohn.

But the intention was never to take it away from the kids.

"If they believe their child is appropriate for participation, then absolutely," said Pettyjohn.

Students in elementary school who don't meet the threshold and are in those regular PE classes, they will have the chance to have a conversation parent to teacher about whether they should keep them in the Special Olympics in the future. The board says it will not be a cut off without conversation.

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