Transforming lives through sports and play

During the five-day trip, we witnessed how the Special Olympics Young Athletes programme, funded by the IKEA Foundation, supports  children with intellectual disabilities and their families in Thailand.

We have interacted with the Young Athletes—children with intellectual disabilities. We have listened to many impressive stories from the Young Athletes’ family members and coaches. We have participated in home visits and discovered life in the homes of Young Athletes and their families. We have shared our reflections and feelings. We have learnt a lot from the trip.

The Young Athletes enjoy the activities very much with big smiles. Photo by Jerry Chan.

We visited two Special Education Centres in Samut Sakhon, 1.5 hours’ travelling time from Bangkok city centre, and Khon Kaen, a provincial capital in northern Thailand.

We firstly visited Samut Sakhon centre. After a warm greeting and introduction, we joined in the activities with 30 young athletes, aged between two and seven, and their parents. We stood hand in hand in a big circle and six coaches, wearing cheerful smiles, stood in the centre of the circle. When the music started, we all started moving our bodies, following the instructions from the coaches.

Let’s stretch and move! Photo by Jerry Chan.
Young Athletes learn how to communicate and develop their social skills by interacting with others through different kinds of activities. Photo Maria Kwok.

The activities are not just running, kicking and throwing for fun but are also designed with meaning. All in all, they aim to help the Young Athletes develop their motor and social skills as well as recognise numbers and colours in a fun environment. We all enjoyed the moment very much. After the activities, all the Young Athletes received a medal. It showed the appreciation for their participation and efforts.

The activities set up in the Special Education Centre are tools to train the Young Athletes. Photo by Maria Kwok.
The Young Athletes not only practice in the centre but also at home. The coaches teach family members to make equipment themselves by using recycled and handy materials. Photo by Maria Kwok.


A medal represents an award for their efforts. Photo by Maria Kwok.

On the next day, we visited another centre located in Khon Kaen, northern Thailand, to meet another group of Young Athletes with their family members and coaches.

After the activities with the Young Athletes in Khon Kaen centre, we interviewed three family members. We think that mothers and grandmothers are the majority of the family members to take care of the Young Athletes.  However, we also interviewed a father, who was so open-minded to share with us how he’s taking care of his younger son Fifa, an eight-year-old boy with autism.

When Fifa was four, he couldn’t speak. A doctor proved that Fifa was not deaf but diagnosed him with autism and recommendated he go to special education school.

To take good care of Fifa, his father made a very big decision.  Fifa’s father was a busy businessman and the family had lived Phuket. He decided to move to his wife’s family house near Khon Kaen.

After they moved, Fifa’s father realised that he needed to take closer care of Fifa’s daily living and bring him to Khon Kaen Centre daily. He made another big decision and moved to a house near Khon Kaen, with Fifa and his elder son, who is the first year in a normal secondary school. Fifa’s father has left his business to his wife to manage. They meet with her and Fifa’s grandma once a month.

Fifa has been part of the Young Athlete programme for almost four years, and his father feels glad to see the improvement in him. He can speak some words, no longer escapes when someone approaches him and plays with others.

Autisic children have some core symptoms such as social-interaction difficulties, lauguage impairment and repetitive behaviours. As a father, he totally understands that Fifa has special needs and even when Fifa played with other children, his father will brief them about Fifa’s situation. Fifa wants to play with his elder brother but as a teenager, the brother prefers to play with his friends, although he loves Fifa.

From the sharing by Fifa’s father, we see the challenging situation and the determination and positive enegry; we feel impressed that Fifa’s father has sacrificed a lot for Fifa and given him the best time to grow; we find that the understanding and support from the family, community, the centre and people around are super important.

Interviewing three family members: mother, grandma, father. They are so open-minded to share their journey and experience of taking care of the Young Athletes. Photo by Charlie Chan.
We visited Dano’s home in Khon Kaen. He lives with his great grandfather, grandmother and great uncle, while his parents need to stay outside for work. Photo by Maria Kwok.

It was really an eye-opening experience, as we had the chance to interact with the Young Athletes, their family members and the coaches, which was my first time.

By listening to their stories and sharing and interacting with the Young Athletes and their family members, I saw positive energy, happy faces, hope and love. I also realised the importance of acceptance, caring and inclusion for people in need in the community. Once we are aware of it, we need to take the next steps to build a better everyday life for the many people.

    Maria Kwok