Special Olympian Educates Children

Photo By Daniel Smrokowski

“It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is because that’s who I am,” said Garrett Anderson, 23, of Palatine, Ill.

Garrett was born with Down syndrome and has learning disabilities. He is the proud son of Sharon and Randall both 57, and is the younger brother of Seth and Randall.

During Garrett’s high school years, his teachers had advised him to drop his classes and enter into a transition program like other people who are diagnosed with the disability that he has instead of fulfilling his dream of continuing on to college.

Garrett was determined to succeed and disagreed pursuing a transition program.

“I do see going to a junior college as a good thing,” said Chicago Special Education teacher, Sisie Puntil-Wilcek, 59, of Elmhurst, Ill., “A kid who has special needs should not be at a big university [and] should be at a small university. ”

A higher education was important to Garrett because he “wanted to be a teacher’s assistant in a daycare setting because I love children,” said Garrett.

In September 2007, Garrett had first enrolled at the William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, Ill. Then in August 2008, Garrett attended Eastern New Mexico University in Roswell, N.M. Garrett returned home to Harper College in September 2009 to complete junior college education.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, from 2007-2008, there were 10.8% of undergraduate students in postsecondary education who have a disability. In this same year, between the ages of 15 to 23, there were 54.0% of students with a disability who were in college.

Even though one of Garrett’s college instructors was glad that he was enrolled in the course, some of the other students were not patient with his learning style, according to Garrett.

Because of Garrett’s disability, others learn patience by preserving since Garrett takes a long time to process information, according to his mother, Sharon.

“I give them insight into people with disabilities,” said Garrett, “I was the example there.”

Similar to many college students in this technology-driven society, mobile devices and personal computers are able to help with time management. Garrett is no different. He uses his iPod Touch and personal computer that help with managing his work and homework schedules.

Photo By Daniel Smrokowski

Some students may be involved with extracurricular activities, but for people who have a label, like Garrett, balancing coursework and extracurriculars is a challenge. Between all the demands of homework and difficult reading assignments, Garrett has had to give up some activities that others may be able to be involved in.

“I had to give up my passion for theater and sports,” said Garrett.

Before Garrett started college, he was able to participate as an athlete in Special Olympics. At 12-years-old, Garrett started competing in track and field. In March 2011 in Normal, Ill., Garrett started participating in the Athlete Leadership programs and was trained as a Global Messenger, speaking about how the organization changes his life for the better.

Even with the difficult task of completing coursework, managing time, and being diagnosed with a disability label, Garrett was able to fulfill what some may not be able to complete.

Photo By Daniel Smrokowski

On May 20, 2012, Garrett graduated from Harper college with a degree in Early Childhood education.

“Don’t ever say can’t. Always say try. Do what you have to do out there and make it happen that’s what my advice will be out there for everyone,” Garrett said.

Watch the exclusive video interview with Garrett below:

NextLevel: Garrett Anderson Profile from Special Chronicles on Vimeo

Click Here to download and listen to Garrett’s Story!

About Daniel Smrokowski

Daniel Smrokowski is a December 2012 graduate from Roosevelt University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism. He is the Founder and Executive Director of SpecialChronicles.com, and the podcaster and blogger for the Special Chronicles and the RUInspired podcasts. He is a young journalist who was the recipient of the 2012 Matthew Freeman Award for Social Justice for his continuing efforts via media and reporting to give people with disabilities a voice. Through his work as a Podcaster, Blogger, Journalist, Public Speaker, Multimedia specialist, radio show host, and Award Winning Special Olympian, he enjoys spreading the message to respect others, like himself, who were diagnosed with the “disability” label.
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