Local News

Lessons to Learn About Mental Retardation

Posted May 23, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— The 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games begin in less than a month. The Triangle will be filled with athletes from around the world, all of whom have mental retardation.

Take a moment to think about your own impression of people with mental disabilities. What are your expectations? You might be surprised.

Jennifer Polk drives, works two jobs -- including one with kids -- volunteers in her community and has a smile that could melt an iceberg.

Talking to her, you would never know she has mental retardation, but she does.

Despite the disability, Jennifer says she is just like the rest of us.

"I love, I care," she says. "I want the world to see just because you have mental retardation doesn't mean you're just this person with mental retardation. We're people, we're human, we're independent. We're just like anyone else."

"She likes to be around kids and she does fun stuff. She thinks of fun stuff for us to do," says student Brynn Houser. "She's a typical, everyday person."

In all, an estimated 200,000 people in North Carolina have mental retardation. Some people are mildly touched by it. Others are severely affected.

Polk reminds us all are making strides never thought possible a few decades ago.

More people with mental retardation work than ever before; many volunteer. And all say they want you to treat them like you would anyone else.

"Just be yourself and I'll be myself and we'll have a great friendship," says Polk. "Just get to know me before you try to judge me."

Jennifer Polk is a reminder there are lessons we can all learn from one another.

Polk is active in Special Olympics as an athlete, coach and official. She has competed in past World Games.

This summer she will join WRAL to help in our coverage of the games.