November is Diabetes Awareness Month

During the month of November, Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA) is recognizing Diabetes Awareness Month by helping athletes learn about and prevent diabetes melitus (DM). DM is one of the most common diseases among Americans and affects those with intellectual disability at a much greater rate. Those with intellectual disabilities tend to receive fewer diabetes exams and less diabetes care than those without disabilities. By making healthy choices and making sure you see your doctor routinely you can help prevent your risk for Diabetes.

What is Diabetes Melitus? 

DM is a long-lasting health condition that is related to high levels of blood sugar. This condition relates to a hormone released from your pancreas called insulin, which helps us manage our blood sugar levels. For a person with diabetes, their body does not make enough insulin or cannot use it as well as it should. This can lead to a buildup of sugar in the bloodstream which can result in serious health problems like heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease. 

There are different types of diabetes:

  • Prediabetes: Slightly high blood glucose levels in addition to heart health changes taking place
  • Type 1 Diabetes: A small or no production of insulin by the pancreas. This type of Diabetes is genetic and is not reversible.  
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Not enough production of insulin by the pancreas and the body is not able to use insulin properly. This type of Diabetes can be reversible with healthy lifestyle changes and weight loss.

To help prevent your risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes or to help reverse a diagnosis of prediabetes or Type 2 Diabetes it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Follow these tips below for more details.

Four lifestyle/nutritional tips for preventing Type 2 DM: 

  1. Participate in physical activity: 

Exercise can prevent type 2 DM by helping with weight loss, lowering blood sugar, and increasing your body’s ability to use insulin. Finding the sports and activities you enjoy can help you stay motivated. A goal of 150 minutes of physical activity per week can decrease your risk for Diabetes. 

  • Consume more foods high in fiber: 

Eating enough fiber is shown to provide many benefits like improved bowel movement, weight loss, and lower cholesterol levels! Fiber is also important for those with diabetes because it helps manage blood glucose levels. 

High fiber foods

  • Fruits and vegetables 
  • Whole-grain foods like bread, brown rice, cereals etc.
  • Beans and legumes 
  • Oats 
  • Low fat Popcorn
  • Drink water and sugar free drinks

Sugary drinks and beverages can add to your daily sugar intake and total calories. Extra sugar that you eat can be stored as fat over time. Drinking soft drinks, fruit juice, sports drinks, and other sugary drinks regularly over time can lead to weight gain, which can lead to a higher risk of diabetes.

  • Eat Fruits and Vegetables, 3-5 servings a day

Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber. They can be a filling way to add many vitamins and minerals to your diet and keep you feeling full and satisfied. Filling your plate with fruits and vegetables instead of extra carbohydrates and added fats can lower your risk of diabetes. Eating fruits and vegetables for snacks is a healthier choice than many high fat and high sugary snacks too!

If you or someone you know is diagnosed with Diabetes or Prediabetes it is important to talk with your healthcare provider to help manage your blood sugar and prevent any future problems related to diabetes. If you need help finding a provider in your area, Special Olympics Pennsylvania can help. Check out our Provider Director for Diabetes Self-Management and Education locations in your area.

Mental Health Action Day

On May 20, we are proud to join forces with MTV and hundreds of global brands, cultural leaders and other nonprofit organizations for the first ever Mental Health Action Day. Our goal is to help athletes make emotional well-being a priority.

There are many tools available to assist you or your loved ones in promoting well-being, reducing stress and improving coping skills and resilience, including our Strong Minds resources. Emotional well-being is just as important as physical health. Check out these tips to help manage stress:

Inclusive Health Spotlight: Columbia/Montour Walking Club

We are so proud of our Special Olympics Pennsylvania athletes, families and volunteers in Columbia/Montour who have been coming together almost every week to participate in a walking club led by Athlete Leaders. What began as a group of friends walking together in the mall has now become a wonderful addition to their trainings and health and fitness routines. They have found ways to add fun to their weekly walks such as including balloons into their walking to help work on their balance.

They also have enjoyed socializing together after their walks and have even celebrated birthdays together. The have recently moved their walking to the local YMCA. Way to go Columbia/Montour walking club on staying active and fit!

Athlete Leaders, called Health and Fitness Coordinators, can plan and offer year round walking clubs. By offering a club, athletes, unified partners, coaches, families and volunteers have the opportunity to become more healthy and fit where they live, not just at Special Olympics Pennsylvania events. Local and ongoing opportunities are where people will experience a difference in their health and fitness!  

If you would like to start a walking club for your local program consider becoming a Health and Fitness Coordinator. Like any Athlete Leader, a Health and Fitness Coordinator must also have a Mentor. If you don’t have a Mentor, please contact Jordan Schubert at jschubert@specialolympicspa.org as well as your Local Program Manager/Director. Once you have a Mentor, you will then be given instructions on next steps towards becoming a Health and Fitness Coordinator.

Please visit this link for more information!

Inclusive Health Spotlight: SO FUNfitness

FUNfitness was developed in collaboration with the American Physical Therapy Association and provides athletes the opportunity to be screened for flexibility, functional strength, and balance. The screenings are provided by physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, or physical therapy students.

Special Olympics Pennsylvania developed a unique partnership with American Physical Therapy Association- Pennsylvania to provide volunteers for the FUNfitness events. 

Special Olympics Pennsylvania also partners with universities to provide student volunteers for FUNfitness events.

This experience provides opportunities for physical therapy students to interact with athletes with intellectual disabilities while also gaining experience in the screening process.

Research shows that over 80 percent of healthcare providers are not professionally trained to treat people with intellectual disabilities.  By partnering with Universities, we are directly addressing this issue and providing students with this training and experiences.

We caught up with Natalie Albright, a former student (who is now a PT working with children with intellectual disabilities), to see what she had to say about FUNfitness! Check it out:

Participating in this event made me realize that I may be seriously interested in working with individuals with intellectual disabilities one day.  This was something that I had only briefly considered previously because I was never sure if I would be able to do it. 

Overall, it was really awesome to get to be a part of something bigger than myself and to see how much the Special Olympics clearly means to all those involved

I feel as though I was able to learn a lot through experiencing new situations firsthand (which is my favorite, most effective way to learn), while also helping a fantastic organization.  I appreciate any opportunity to apply what we have been learning about in our classes to real-life situations because it serves as reassurance that all the lectures we sit through really do matter and will benefit us in our careers. I regret never getting involved with the Special Olympics before this point, but I am grateful to have had the chance to get involved now and I hope to return to volunteer in the future.

Natalie Albright

If you’d like to learn more about #InclusiveHealth and FUNfitness, please visit www.specialolympicspa.org/health-programs.

Strong Minds Clinical Director spotlight: Dr. Adam Assoian

Special Olympics Pennsylvania is so excited to announce the new offering of the Strong Minds discipline at Healthy Athletes events going forward! Strong Minds is an interactive learning activity focused on developing adaptive coping skills. Leading our new discipline is our new Clinical Director, Dr. Adam Assoian. Learn more about Dr. Assoian and Strong Minds by checking out the Q&A below!


Special Olympics Pennsylvania: Describe your job/practice. What do you like best about what you do?

Dr. Assoian: I am the owner and Clinical Director of Ally Psychological Services, a private psychological practice in Bucks County. At Ally Psych we help individuals from all walks of life and backgrounds feel better about themselves and improve their mental health. We also offer evaluations and support groups to those in need.What I love most about my job is being able to interact and get to know so many people. Helping those that are ready for change is incredibly rewarding.

SOPA: What are you most excited about in volunteering with Special Olympics Pennsylvania?

Dr. Assoian: Being able to help the athletes strengthen their mental health and have them feel more comfortable and confident throughout the games is going to be such an amazing experience. 

SOPA: How do you see Strong Minds benefiting our athletes?

Dr. Assoian: Whether it’s pregame nerves or post-game emotions, most athletes will experience strong emotions during the competition. Strong Minds can benefit athletes by giving them a place to learn realistic and useful coping skills to make handling their emotions a little bit easier.

SOPA: What is your favorite sport?

Dr. Assoian: My favorite sport is definitely Powerlifting. It’s something I believe is such a great coping skill and something I do in my own life too.


You can learn even more about the Strong Minds discipline by following this link!