Special Olympics Indiana athletes teach med school students new communication skills


Internal Medicine – Pediatrics physician Mary Ciccarelli is using the Special Olympics Indiana Summer Games to teach Indiana Medical School students valuable lessons in special needs patient to physician communication.

“There’s very limited curricula on this in either nursing schools or occupational therapy schools, or medical schools. It’s a deficit actually, nationally,” she explained.

As a Healthy Athletes clinical director, she is introducing these students to situations they will face while caring for patients.

“Volunteering here is a method that folks can use to try out accommodations of care,” she said. “Try out simplifying their communication techniques or their education training that they give to families of patients.”

IU med student Emma Ross is figuring out how to ask the right questions in order to break the health literacy barrier.

“There was one boy, and I said, when it’s not the Special Olympics do you still exercise? And he said no,” she explained. “And I think that’s because, so then I rephrased my question to say what kinds of activities do you like to do at home? And he said oh I like to play basketball and I like to go on walks and stuff.”

Fellow IU Med Student Adam Warrick has previous experience with the special needs community.

He says his mothers position as a special education teacher has helped shape his belief that communication between physician and patient needs to be fair and informative.

 “I think sometimes people speak down to people with intellectual disabilities too much,” he said. “And I think they know more than people often feel that they do.”

Other licensed professionals who volunteered at the Summer Games were also able to treat and get to know these athletes.

“Two and a half percent of the population qualify for services as having an intellectual disability,” said Ciccarelli. “And so that means that every health professional is going to have to interface with people whom they have to adjust their approach to healthcare.”

For those who may want to brush up on their communication skills or begin training, Ciccarelli co-developed a program with IU Med and the Indiana State Department of Health.

The Center for Youth and Adults with Conditions of Childhood trains health professionals and provides services for those with special needs.

For more information on this program click this link.

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