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[00:00:00] Dr. Sharp: Hello, everyone. Welcome to The Testing Psychologist podcast, the podcast where we talk all about the business and practice of psychological and neuropsychological assessment. I’m your host, Dr. Jeremy Sharp, licensed psychologist, group practice owner, and private practice coach.

This episode is brought to you by PAR.

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Hey, everyone. Glad to be back here with you.

I’m so excited to be talking to my guest today, Dr. Sondra Marshall. Sondra is a licensed psychologist who lives in Bend, Oregon, where her “day” job is the clinic Director of PEDAL or the Programs of Evaluation, Development, And Learning at St. Charles Health Systems. Her passion is being the US national eligibility officer for Athletes Without Limits. Her role is to review athletes’ reports to ensure the athlete has documentation to support their inclusion in one of three lanes IDD, ASD, and or Down Syndrome to participate in national and international sporting events, including the Paralympics.

Sondra has one of those relatively unique jobs that could have fit in my previous series about unorthodox assessment settings, but I’m [00:02:00] glad we got a full interview here. As an athletic person, myself, you’ll hear us use that term during the interview or an athlete in a past life maybe, this was personally relevant to talk about sports and, of course, with the overlay of assessment and how we might advocate for and make sure that all athletes are able to participate in high-level elite competition.

A few things that we chat about are: We talk about Athletes Without Limits as an organization; what it is, and how it fits into the bigger picture of the Olympics, the Paralympics, the Special Olympics, and so forth. We talk about Sondra’s job as a reviewer and how she is a big part of qualifying and making sure that athletes are able to compete if [00:03:00] they are good candidates. We talk about how clinicians on the ground level can help complete these evaluations. We talk about the ins and outs of the evaluations, what Sondra is looking for, and how she might qualify an athlete or not qualify an athlete, among many other things.

This is a fantastic episode. Sondra, I think you’ll be able to tell, even from her voice, she is one of those warm, genuine, passionate individuals who cares a great deal about what she’s doing and seems to be the perfect person for this job.

Now, we didn’t mention this in the podcast. That was my mistake. She wanted to make sure to include her contact info for anyone who listens and would like to reach out to learn more or just to connect. So again, Sondra Marshall. Her email is [00:04:00] sbmarshall@stcharleshealthcare.org. That will be listed in the show notes as well. So make sure to check that out if you want to get in touch with Sondra.

Okay. I won’t keep you any longer. This was a fabulous conversation and I am excited to bring you Dr. Sondra Marshall.

Sondra, hey, welcome to the podcast. 

Dr. Sondra: Thank you. It’s great to be here. 

Dr. Sharp: Yes, I am really glad to have you. I am a bit of an athlete myself, and so I have a little bit of connection to this world that you’ve got going on, but more importantly, the assessment component, this is such a[00:05:00] unique way to utilize some of our skills in that area.

Honestly, it could have belonged in that Out-There Assessment Series I was doing on unorthodox work settings, but I’m glad that we’re sitting down for a full hour-long interview here because it’s fascinating to me. So thanks for being here.

Dr. Sondra: Well, thanks for reaching out to me. It’s a great opportunity as this organization grows exponentially to have the platform to talk about it. Again, to maybe even try to galvanize other people to be interested about it because our athletes are coming from all over the United States now.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I hope to showcase the organization as much as the position and the job that you’re doing.

Well, we’ll start where I always start, which is why spend your life, whatever [00:06:00] portion of your life is dedicated to this, of all the things, why do you make time for this?

Dr. Sondra: The short answer is, it’s a volunteer position. I want to make sure that people understand that I am volunteering in the role as National Eligibility Officer for this organization called Athletes Without Limits.

I spend time, usually between 5 and 7 in the morning, reviewing the athletes, and then problem solving whenever things come up, and getting to travel more with them because it’s marrying, like you, my passion of being a licensed psychologist for 25 years who focused primarily on children and youths with special health care needs, which includes intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, Downs and other genetic [00:07:00] conditions, and then my passion for sports.

I like to think of myself as an athletic person. That’s why I live here in Bend, Oregon. I’ve always appreciated that sports transcends winning and losing which builds character, independence, self-efficacy, self-determination, and all of those wonderful things that we know sports can do for a population that has not had access to that. We can see this coming to not only the national, but international stage. I have so much gratitude for it being dumped in my lap as something that is needed and watching it grow. 

Dr. Sharp: I love that. I have to ask then what’s your activity of choice or sport of choice personally?

Dr. Sondra: That’s a great question. I have gone through phases. I’ll start by saying I’m an [00:08:00] equestrian. So I compete in the competition of the dressage. I compete at a high enough level that Athletes Without Limits have added dressage as a lane for our athletes. And so I’m involved at the international level in making sure that we have a lane for athletes with intellectual conditions to participate in elite dressage. So that’s been exciting to hone in on my sport of choice, but I’m also a skier and a hiker and just a lover of all things outdoors.

How about yourself? I have to ask.

Dr. Sharp: I’m a runner more than anything else. I have been fortunate to be able to stay healthy, I suppose, for going on 20 years, maybe even more now of running. I go through phases, of course, but that’s my activity of choice. I’ll do just about anything, but I always come back to running. I just love it. 

Dr. Sondra: It is a moving [00:09:00] meditation at its best. I agree. I love it. And then you live in the mountains, so you probably do mountain running, I suspect.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah, they’re right out the window. I’m looking at them right now. It’s pretty easy to get up there like nothing. I love those single-trail or single-track trails rolling through the mountains. That’s a lot of fun. I’m just trying to do it as long as I can, or for whatever it might stop me.

Dr. Sondra: I got it. Yeah, it’s great.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah. This position is so fascinating to me. You’ve already said a lot that I want to dig into, but maybe we start with any other background or description of the position or the organization that you think would be helpful for folks to know about before we dig into any more details.

Dr. Sondra: I think that’s great. Athletes Without Limits is [00:10:00] an organization here in the United States that happens to be headquartered here in Bend, so that’s why I connected with the directors. They started this organization, oh, gosh, I don’t know unless you can get on online and look, maybe 15 years ago, if not longer, with the focus of making elite sport accessible for all. And it paralleled with an international movement to bring elite sport back into a Paralympic lane for athletes with intellectual disabilities.

So, that organization has gone through two different names. It’s now known as Virtus. Virtus is located in England, and they are the overarching organization that oversees Parasport to make sure that any athlete with an intellectual disability [00:11:00] meets the actual criteria of having an intellectual disability so that they can participate in Parasport, specifically the Paralympics, which is considered the grand stage for elite sport.

It was a lane that was open to athletes with intellectual disabilities for a long time. And then people might remember back in 2000 when the Olympics were in Sydney, Australia, and Spanish men’s basketball team of athletes with intellectual disabilities won the gold in basketball, only to find out months later that none of them had intellectual disabilities.

Dr. Sharp: Oh my goodness.

Dr. Sondra: So, the whole lane of athletes with intellectual disabilities was removed from Olympic Sports. And that’s when this organization said, we will be the gatekeepers. We will make sure that athletes meet [00:12:00] that criteria.

Athletes with intellectual disabilities were reintroduced into the Paralympics in 2012 when the Olympics were in London, and it’s grown from there. So, athletes now, not only with intellectual disabilities, they’re the only ones that have a lane right now for Paralympic sport and only in three categories, back and field swimming and table tennis, with hopefully more to come. But also now opening up the lane, not at the Olympics yet, although there’s a movement towards that, but lanes in the area of working with athletes with Down syndrome as well as autism spectrum disorders. They’ll participate in elite-level sports.

People then often ask me, what’s the difference between that and Special Olympics?

Dr. Sharp: You’re [00:13:00] anticipating my questions. Yes.

Dr. Sondra: Special Olympics is a truly remarkable organization that provides sport for all. It is national, it is international, it is big, and it is wonderful because it is an invitation for all to appreciate what sport does and it is sport for all. And then this is saying, yes, there’s sport for all and then there’s sport for people who want to participate at an elite level. And that’s really what these athletes do just like any other elite athlete who wants to train and participate in a very competitive sport. It’s all-encompassing for them. They often train year round and so this is a platform for that.

So when I was asked to be the United States National Eligible Officer, meaning I reviewed all of the applications, [00:14:00] I thought, oh, I get to marry both of my passions.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I want to clarify just to make sure I’m tracking everything accurately, that the Paralympics is, or the Olympics, I suppose, but then the Paralympics is the big umbrella over all of this in some form or fashion, if that’s the word, but then Athletes Without Limits is, you used the word gatekeeper, the organization that helps determine if individuals are eligible for the Paralympics. Is that right?

Dr. Sondra: That’s partly right. Thanks for clarifying. So, the Athletes Without Limits, the staff organization, the director of live here in Bend, Oregon. They are tasked with ensuring that applicants who want to participate in the Virtus [00:15:00] game parasports because they are the clearing house. So people have to actually send in their applications and then I review all of the applications, and that actually, we’ll get into this, but then that goes back to England but also we take out athletes. So our athletes, for example, our athletes are the U.S. athletes that were represented in Poland for skiing with the hopes that there will be a path to, the right now there’s no pathway to Paralympic for our athletes to participate in our games.

So, now there’s a movement already at this organization Athlete Without Limit, but also is the body that takes the athletes to participate in these kinds of international competitions for this lane for athletes and Intellectual Disabilities, Autism, and Down syndrome.

[00:16:00] Dr. Sharp: I got you. Thank you for that clarification. So the Paralympics is for folks with any number of disabilities. I don’t know if that’s the right word, but it could be physical…

Dr. Sondra: […]

Dr. Sharp: Yes. You all are staying in this lane of intellectual disability. And you said that you’re working on, or is it already in place for folks on the autism spectrum and…

Dr. Sondra: Not yet. The autism spectrum lane, that’s the newest lane. That’s the 3rd lane, so it’s called III3 and that is probably going to be because there’s such a continuum. The whole goal is to say, how does this disability impact this athlete in their sport? Because the whole goal is to try to even the playing field so that athletes [00:17:00] are competing against others similarly abled athletes, and so there’s such a continuum on the autism spectrum.

For example, someone who has an autism spectrum disorder, who also has an intellectual disability, they can actually choose to participate in what’s called the II1 lane, the intellectual disability lane, so they can have both autism and an intellectual disability, but because there’s no lane to Paris with autism, they’ll choose to participate in the intellectual disability.

Dr. Sharp: Yes, that makes sense. It does. Just to make a meta-comment as well and acknowledge, of course, there’s a lot of debate and discussion rightfully about whether autism is a disability or not. And the language we use is absolutely important. I want to make it clear that I’m not necessarily equating the two of [00:18:00] those but for the purposes of our discussion here and how autistic folks might fit into this athletic world, there’s a little bit of a necessity to pair those terms, whether it’s the right way to do it or not. I just want to acknowledge that.

Dr. Sondra: I appreciate that. We actually just had… All of the national eligibility officers from around the world had a Zoom meeting to talk about the language that we use, to talk about eligibility, to talk about a standardized process where you get people from Europe, Asia, South America, and the US.

Myself, I’m a woman from Brazil. We are the longest-standing national eligibility officers of all the eligibility officers around the world. There’s a [00:19:00] continuum of how we see this anyway. I was in Mexico in December meeting with all of the eligibility officers from North and South America, and that was also fascinating through my cultural lens how I see things.

Dr. Sharp: Sure. That might be a nice side route to take for a minute. I’m really curious if there’s anything from that discussion that’s important to share as you were talking through language and standards. I imagine that is interesting to many folks in the audience

Dr. Sondra: It is. If I get into my very objective concrete brain. Cognitive scores are the easiest to agree on because we all agree that the standard is the Wechsler test, and those can be administered in many different languages. Where there’s a [00:20:00] divergence is in adaptive functioning. Adaptive functioning, what it even looks like to my land, what I feel in needing support, this may be not needing support in another country. For example, how people from Guatemala thought of people with adaptive impairment, it was different than how I see people with adaptive impairment.

Dr. Sharp: Right. I was going to ask for examples once you opened that door. Are there, even with that example, I don’t know if you have any specific instances or behaviors or qualities that come to the top of your mind, whether Guatemala is more conservative than the US or cast a wider net. I’m not sure.

Dr. Sondra: I don’t know if there’s one answer for that, but what I found, even stepping back is that the adaptive [00:21:00] functioning is my perspective, anyway, that’s probably the most subjective, depending on who I talk to and how I ask questions, people’s expectations are all over the place, so I think, how people expect us to function, and people to function, that become almost the biggest barrier because to meet the criteria to participate in the intellectual disability lane, you have to have an IQ of 75 or lower, and then one domain on an adaptive, typically the ABAS or the Vineland, only one domain has to be a 70 or below to meet the criteria, but even that can be challenging sometimes.

For example, here in the United States, and I don’t want to generalize this, but I think people will have a lot of different experiences, but sometimes when people get [00:22:00] early intervention and people are scaffolded appropriately and environments are supported appropriately, people’s adaptive functioning can be more independent. That’s what we want, right?

Dr. Sharp: Yes. 

Dr. Sondra: I had conversations with myself, and Paris colleagues. They often don’t have the kind of resources that we have or we are known to have- we being in the United States. So a lot of people with intellectual developmental conditions don’t have those kinds of resources early on in the scaffolding will make, and not the functional independently. They lack those resources.

So again, trying to understand, how do we even the playing field and how do we look at adaptive functioning? Not only how do I look at it out as the natural eligibility officer, just because the one someone might have fact, I’ve gotten this in the last couple of weeks where IQs are around a 59, [00:23:00] but parent and teacher adaptives are in the 80s. Then do I state that they not have an intellectual disability? Should they not be able to compete?

Dr. Sharp: Sure. What do you do in that situation? I feel like we run into that in a straight-up normal private practice. And it’s a hard question. Now, you’re considering this as a means to qualify someone for a pretty high-level competition. What do you do with that?

Dr. Sondra: That is true. That was beyond what I expected. I thought, oh, I’ll just look at scores. And now what I’m finding is that’s happening more and more as I have to get into all the reports, look at all the II3 that everything that I can get my hands on to say, is there data to suggest that while they might be functioning at this level because they’ve been appropriately resource, truly, they are still only functioning at that level that one would [00:24:00] identify as having an intellectual disability and then working with the people in London to say, is this reasonable? Is it a reasonable criterion for us to look at? Although now it’s an ongoing conversation.

Dr. Sharp: So you started to say, I think we started this section of the conversation where you said, my rational brain, the scores are the easiest. We’ve got the cognitive scores and then adaptive functioning is a little tougher. Is there a 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th criteria that you’re looking at then beyond those two theoretically objective numbers that can help tip the scales in one direction or the other?

Dr. Sondra: What I’m looking for, and even that is thinking about our conversation is, if psychologists have done this evaluation that they’re creating a narrative to help me as the reader [00:25:00] believe that this person has and meets what we decided the definition of having an intellectual disability. Again, it’s the narrative of how people explore, integrate and explain things. So I’m interested in that when there’s a discrepancy between the cognitive or the objective and the adaptive.That’s important. And then I can make a case because what happens once I make a case for something, I’m always going to pull for that update.

Well, it’s really hard. For example, we had an athlete, who last summer, we went to Vichy France with for the global game. There were 1400 athletes from around the world, and we took 45 and it was phenomenal. We took 45 athletes with intellectual disabilities: [00:26:00] Autism and Downs, and we all live together in a hotel without the parents, which is interesting in of itself, right? Because parents are usually the primary caregivers.

Oh my gosh, I could just tell wonderful stories about that in and of itself. It’s one thing for us to sit in our offices, test people, talk to parents, and do all the great work that we do, but to live for 10 days with these athletes, to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them, to watch them process things.

I’m going to go down a rabbit hole, but we had one athlete who was nonverbal with autism, she was a swimmer, and she was completely nonverbal but she had her iPad. She was very quiet and reserved, but over the course of our time together, she started [00:27:00] sending the team little messages about how much it meant to her to be on a team. In fact, if anyone wants to do research, I’m going to put a plug, if anyone wants to look at the research of what it’s like for parents to see their athletes become part of a team, and their sense of connection to a group of other parents, I just remembered as myself as a parent of a kid was to play soccer that watching him as a parent was so powerful for me and then having my own parent group if we were going through the same thing, that would be fascinating to look at. Okay, I just don’t know. So many stories.

Anyways, watching her become part of it, but where was I going with this, Jeremy? Where was I?

Dr. Sharp: It started with this question of when you’re considering all the criteria, we got [00:28:00] cognitive and adaptive and then, are there other measures or circumstances or data that you look at?

You were saying it’s our job as clinicians to paint the picture and tell the story and then we

Dr. Sondra: I digressed.

Dr. Sharp: meandered, and that’s totally cool.

Dr. Sondra: Yeah, sorry, because that lived experience of watching what is it truly like when you, and not only this, but I get too many adaptive going back to the adaptive where people just report the numbers. I always am left questioning, how did this provider describe to the parent or the caregiver, or the teacher how they should think about these things. We get nervous sometimes asking parents to be critical and to think about their loved ones, not as [00:29:00] everything you know about them, but who they are compared to other same developmentally age people because then it’s going to be a little harder and it’s going to be a little bit more critical. But sometimes we need that to help us generate these numbers to have access to a lot of different agencies and social services.

Dr. Sharp: Right. So you’re dealing with I think one of the core questions that we deal with as well in our practice is, how do the raters approach these questions? We really struggle with walking that line with telling parents like, Hey, if you can somehow strip away everything you know, everything that you do, all the scaffolding you’ve provided, like, really think about this in terms of what can this individual do independently if you weren’t there.

There’s some real dissonance there because parents, well, many layers, parents maybe don’t want to face that or don’t want to acknowledge [00:30:00] that they won’t be there to help their kid at some point or that they may… So there’s a lot to sort through, but it sounds like you wrestle with that too.

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Dr. Sondra: I wrestle with that too, but the adaptive, Down Syndrome is the easiest lane for us to, I just see it Down Syndrome, I see the medical and that’s easy. Now athletes, it was very interesting in Vichy, France, the French athlete with Down Syndrome, they created a video because they want access to New Olympics. They want to be able to compete at the Paralympic stage. And so there’s a real… It’s amazing. I learned so much about our Down Syndrome athletes, but they’re the easiest for me to go ahead and [00:33:00] move through. Athletes with autism or autistic athletes, that is the hardest one.

The reports and how people validate someone having autism, I’m sitting there reading this thing, I am not convinced that this person has autism and through the lens of, I’m trying to create equity on the playing field, what do people need to do to do that? That’s harder. It’s interesting Virtus says that, oh, well, you can use this checklist. And so sometimes I’ll get a narrative where it’s just based on the bars that someone has autism, and there’s not a really strong history to support that. Autism has been the most learning for this sport voting group.

Dr. Sharp: Sure. That might be a nice segue into a little bit more of the nuts and bolts of the job. And [00:34:00] so, I am curious, what a typical application packet looks like and how much of that is just going to you. How much of it is built on the psychologist assessment or medical assessment versus, somebody else getting part of the packet to review in the organization. What’s what does that whole area look like?

Dr. Sondra: Great question. A family or a coach, for example, we just had a coach from Louisiana send us 6 applications for her athlete who she is bringing to meet, but anyways, all the packets, thank goodness, go to the directors, and they weed through what is needed, and they know that the next step, the most, well, I don’t want to say the most important, but the step to get them access to be able to participate is me being able to [00:35:00] review things, and the director, who I give a shout out to is Barry and Julie Ullman, and especially Julie, she organizes all of the paperwork.

Some families, as you can imagine, because we’ve all worked with these families, they are very organized and they have every grade and every IEP and every evaluation that this student ever had. I would say that that is less frequent than us saying this is what needs to happen. This is what we need and we’ll get a very smooth approach. She usually waits for the packet to come to me to give to me so that she has at least what she thinks of all the documentation. Some packets are as short as 4 pages on and some are 15 and sometimes I have to read through.

So, for example, sometimes people will present given IQ. They rely on the school. The schools now aren’t always doing IQ testing or [00:36:00] adaptive testing. And we know that they’re not, at least in our state, they don’t have to do that for 3 year re-evaluation. So sometimes these evaluations are really old but once I get a packet, I review it and then I complete a form for them. I have to list out all the tests, the year the test was given, the data that was collected, whether or not I think there’s enough for national eligibility, which is a little bit more lenient. Like maybe it’s not been done within five years because to participate in an international sport, the evaluation has to be less than 5 years of age, which I have issue with, especially if someone has an intellectual disability

Dr. Sharp: Oh, yeah.

Dr. Sondra: or autism for that matter. And we know downs isn’t going to change. So it’s like, let’s Standardize things. I brought that up at our meeting. So then I review it. I fill out my form, [00:37:00] it goes back to England and then they submit it. They have to then get three other psychologists from around the world to review what I wrote up.

Dr. Sharp: Oh, this is very thorough. 

Dr. Sondra: Oh yeah, especially that was what happened after the 2000 Olympics is that there had to be a neutral way so that I wasn’t just saying, oh, yeah, I want this athlete to go. So I’m going to push them forward.

Dr. Sharp: That makes sense.

Dr. Sondra: Yeah. Other psychologists will review that as well. So that’s why I like to have things nice and bolded for people to see what drives me. We usually get things through. I would say that in the last couple of months, we’ve had more pushback because our adaptive scores, all just say, oh, yeah, there’s not an adaptive within that [00:38:00] 70 category, but if we look at the standard error measurement, and I look at a 73, come on, this person has had an intellectual disability for their whole life, let’s just move this through, but those are getting pushed back.

Dr. Sharp: Okay. I would imagine there’s some difficulties/conflict to work through here if I were in your place with, I think you said earlier, you are always going to advocate for the athletes and yet being in a, I’ll use that word gatekeeper, for better for worse, that is the nature of the job, there is a protective element to that you don’t want to, I’m not sure what the word, you don’t want to put other athletes in a… or jeopardize the integrity of the organization, and making sure that no one’s getting in that shouldn’t. That seems really hard.

Dr. Sondra: Absolutely. [00:39:00] It is really hard. I remember where I was going to go. We had an athlete at the Global Games who has autism and he, I think one bulb in almost all of the swimming league, he was amazing.

And so of course the coach approached  me and said, he could maybe make it to Paris in the IDD category and the intellectual disability. Sondra, he’s only a point off. Can’t you push this through? So instead of being a 75 IQ, a 77 and Adaptives are like it’s lowest with the 73 and I said that I can’t do, for me, the stakes feel too high when I say I want all athletes, but we’ll all air on the side of pushing an athlete through nationally and we’ll tell this family, we’re going to let them compete nationally but we need them to get this updated data to [00:40:00] see if we can push it to international. If you have any desire to participate in any international sports.

We have a bunch of golfers. There’s two organizations. It’s all big, huge golfers, so I don’t remember what it’s called, and karate. They have really embraced athletes with intellectual developmental condition, and so there’s a huge competition this summer, I think, I want to say Kansas City. And so we’ve been pushing a lot of golfers through and Karate the same thing. Although that is going to be an international competition, they have to meet the international criteria, not just the national […].

Dr. Sharp: Got you. That seems like a really fraught position. Now, I have a lot of admiration for what you’re wrestling with here and making those [00:41:00] decisions. It’s hard enough. I keep bringing up our normal private practice, but we run into this when trying to qualify people for services in the community through the community center board, entities like that.

Just to get super granular, you mentioned the role of the confidence interval. We will do that sometimes, right? Like somebody maybe has an IQ score of, for these purposes, let’s call it a 76, but an adaptive score of 72, but the confidence interval might push them down to 73 and 68. Is that a case where you can try to advocate for that person or does the committee stick pretty closely to no, we need to really be at this threshold?

Dr. Sondra: That’s a great question and I would say, of course. All of us would be like, [00:42:00] well, how old is the data and other data points to that? Maybe there’s been some variability over time. And so, if maybe there’s been some variability, maybe that they’re at the end of an age lane and they just look good. I definitely take all of those variables into account, but I’ve just recently had, like I said, more pushback. Maybe it’s because it’s an Olympic year, and so people are holding the standard, like the standard is the standard for a reason.

Actually, it was really cool in Vichy in France. I went to all the meetings because they’re doing research on our athletes. And while we were in France, they were doing research because it’s the research that helped opened up the back up the lanes to participate in sports.

There’s a group out of Belgium that’s particularly interested in again, what is an even playing field? Do athletes with [00:43:00] intellectual disabilities perform differently than athletes with neurological conditions and perform differently than able-bodied athletes?

There’s so much rich data to even look at access to the sport, right? We know that the people that have the least access to sport are athletes with intellectual conditions, developmental conditions, especially to elite sport and elite coaching but that in of itself creates an uneven playing field.

My point being that when I pushed forward this conversation two weeks ago about tell me about this adaptive. Is there another way that we could Look at that because that really is thoughtful. It’s so subjective and it becomes a barrier how do we do this differently. So I think that that’s going to be a conversation after the Olympics. I think no one wants to disturb that.

[00:44:00] Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that’s reasonable. You raise a really good question, though, that I imagine there is a lot of research and expertise out there, but this question of do folks with intellectual disabilities actually perform differently in, and I don’t know, is it sport dependent? That seems like it might be sport-dependent as well. It seems like there’s a lot of variables there to take into account when you’re trying to get at that very important question.

Dr. Sondra: I think you’re right. In France, they actually were doing a qualitative evaluation. So they’re talking to as many athletes as they could about questions like, when did you start your sport? How often do you participate in sports Trying to get a sense of that in a more quantitative way.

Dr. Sharp: Mm-Hmm.

Dr. Sondra: When they look at the track and field athletes which is again, one of the parallels that there’s a. 

Dr. Sharp: Well, it does [00:45:00] make sense. A point that you made that really resonates is simply if we start with access and that has so many levels, like, do parents gravitate toward putting their kids in sports if they have intellectual disabilities. Even if they get to the sport, then, how do they access coaching and what kind of team are they on? Do they have the resources or time or any number of things to pursue at the same level as other folks?

Dr. Sondra: Exactly.

Dr. Sharp: There’s a lot to sort through. I didn’t know exactly where our conversation was going to go, but it’s got me thinking a lot as an athletic person, like you said, but also having a kid in sports, fairly high level or elite sports, I’m thinking hard about access and the kids who turned into adults [00:46:00] who may have not had as much access as some others and what that means.

Dr. Sondra: As I tell my story, I always get the question, oh yeah, Special Olympics. Again, the Special Olympics is so important, so amazing, and it’s different than what I’m talking. And so that’s where people go when they think about people with developmental conditions, they go, Special Olympics versus the team was capable.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah. No, it’s an important distinction. I wonder if we might shift a little into what the clinicians out there might want to know about the organization and even participating. I imagine there’s some folks out there who are listening, who are thinking, oh my gosh, I would love to [00:47:00] create a little niche in my practice to work with these athletes and be the one sending you an application. I’m not sure exactly where to start there, but maybe you do. What do we need to know as clinicians who might want to get into this area?

Dr. Sondra: Well, I see a lot of different opportunities, so I’ll start with The Testing Psychologist Facebook page has been phenomenal and that’s how you reached out to me because I’ve had 2 Hail Mary, anyone out there can help me request. This is a fact that we heard we were going to France last year and there was a whole basketball team, men with intellectual disabilities in Detroit, Michigan. They were being sponsored by [00:48:00] Amazon to come to Vichy France and play in the game.

Unfortunately, the psychologists didn’t really quite understand what was expected of them. And so when I started getting these very piecemeal reports and evaluations that contained a WASI instead of a WAIS. It was all over the place. I’m like, we’re not going to be able to bring new athletes because we were literally probably a month away from leaving for France.

Dr. Sharp: Oh my gosh.

Dr. Sondra: We were all devastated. It was going to be our first basketball team. So I just said, all right, I’m just going to put out Hail Mary on The Testing Psychologist. And Dr. Robin McCoy, bless you, responded. She said, I can test all of them and I can do exactly what you need me to do.

So, she literally, with her students, gave all of [00:49:00] them did an adaptive and a prongative. I got all the paperwork. I wrote up all the reports for these 10 athletes who ended up coming with us. It was their first time. None of them had really been outside of a 10 mile radius of Detroit. And these 10 athletes came to the Vichy, France.

It was like one of those magical moments where you saw them initially start off this inner-city attitude, and then they became part of the team. Also, I will tell you that they lost every game by a lot of points and that was really hard for them. But then what’s interesting is that in France, American basketball players are revered so the local community would get so excited that they were coming off the bus [00:50:00] that the kids from the local community started coming just to get their autograph.

So, you saw these men with intellectual disabilities, all of them African American, grow into these amazing human beings, all because Dr. Robin McCoy and her colleagues were able to get them evaluated. So, that was number one, that people make a difference providing access to these evaluations, which typically aren’t paid for by insurance because it’s cognitive and adaptive and it’s not for anything other than access to athletic sports. And that’s been really hard for people.

One of our number one requests from parents is help us get access to a psychologist who doesn’t have an 11-month wait list because by the time they know that they want to join our group, they maybe have like a three-month window to get an evaluation done if they need that.

And [00:51:00] we’re all really busy out there, I know. I just recently put out a request to say, who would want to be a psychologist that I can maybe call on. And so I got about 20 psychologists from around the country who said I’d be willing to do that. And for me, that’s stirring in my mind that you might want to do this psychology work with these athletes before they come with us, because we have more and more opportunity to go abroad and you can imagine, and we don’t let parents come into the hotel room with us. So, in the hotels, we want these athletes to have all the rights and responsibilities with appropriate scaffolding. And so getting families ready for that, probably more so than the athlete is something also that I’m thinking of doing.

Dr. Sharp: Oh, sure. I can only imagine the families and what that must be like when they have to [00:52:00] let go or need to let go, quit feeling protective or

Dr. Sondra: protective. They’ve never left. Are they going to eat? Are they going to do that? It’s amazing. I have a lot of my own mama parts thoughts about that, like, just standing out of the way and letting kids fail, too. I mean, it’s okay to do that and how we have those conversations, but also letting them succeed and bond and become team members who will…

Dr. Sharp: Right. Well, I’m so glad to hear that you were able to utilize the Facebook group to find clinicians to help out in what sounded like a pretty dire situation. And so for those of us, again, out here, is there any like qualifications that you’re looking for beyond psychologist with expertise and cognitive and adaptive assessment [00:53:00] what more might we might we need to be considered or able to do these evals?

Dr. Sondra: Well, eventually I might need someone to also stand in with me because when I first started this 8 years ago, I think I reviewed 10 evaluations a year. Now, I’m up to about 150 a year. So, is there someone out there who is interested to navigate in this world as we grow exponentially? That’s another thing. But it’s really someone who just wants to do evaluation and then maybe participate in this. I have two psychologists say how can I get involved and I really appreciate that. And as the team grows, there might be more and more opportunity.

We took 45, like I said athletes with us to France and we were tapped out. You’re on 24/7 between the competition [00:54:00] and then how to support the athletes in the downtime, too was definitely something that can be challenging, but so worth it.

Dr. Sharp: Right. That’s great to hear. So there may be opportunities on a pretty high level in your world and more boots on the ground stuff around the country to help these athletes.

Are there certain organizations or gosh, metro areas, parts of the country that tend to, I’m not sure what the word is specialize or cater to these athletes more than other areas or organizations. I’m trying to think, even from a business or marketing standpoint, how we might reach these athletes. I imagine…

Dr. Sondra: That’s a great question. I think [00:55:00] any person out there who’s in a community where there’s special Olympics, without getting into the politics there, I think there’s been some tension between the Special Olympics and the Athletes Without Limits only because Special Olympics is such a well oiled machine in terms of what they do and how they do it, and there’s a lot of funding.

Can’t say that there’s a lot of funding with Athletes Without Limits. Like I said, this is a pure volunteer role for me but I always want people to know that there’s another lane for people if they want to compete in a more competitive boarding lane and a parallel lane. And so, the swimmers know about this thing.

So, swimming is really good. Track and field is amazing. Georgia has a huge, in fact, our athletes [00:56:00] who are from Georgia all met with the governor when they got back. So, that was real cool. Florida seems to be a big pocket. Texas, Michigan for our athletes, our runners. For other reasons, Seattle, Washington has become our skiing Mecca. 7 athletes from Seattle were in Poland and we did. So again, it’s growing. I think there’s this mushrooming effect and sooner or later it’s going to overtake certainly my capacity. And who knows what will happen.

Dr. Sharp: It’s so cool to hear that it is growing. I love the idea of providing more access for these athletes. I know that that means you have a lot of work and you’re going to need some help. So

Dr. Sondra: I also think it’s a great place for some research. I don’t think we’ve looked at the athlete’s [00:57:00] experience from a research perspective, like I said, the current perspective and how that maybe can also help facilitate more access.

Dr. Sharp: Absolutely. Well, that may be a nice note to close on. This has been a great conversation. From talking with you, not everyone can see you, of course, but I can tell from your face and your body language, this is something you care deeply about and are so invested in. I’m grateful that you sat down with me for a little while to talk through it, you’re doing really good work.

Dr. Sondra: Oh, well, I want to say thank you for the opportunity, for hearing this story, and reaching out to me because you didn’t pick that up. It’s real important and I think it became that much more [00:58:00] when I saw these athletes wrote together. They have to minimize what sport is true about and I’ll just leave you with this.

There was one athlete in particular who well, he’s Ted Lasso reincarnated. In fact, when I said that to his mom, she turned his phone over and there was the believe that everyone has come to know his name is Kevin and he is our only tennis player. And he was from Boston and I’m from Boston. So he had this most beautiful Boston accent. I would sit down with Kevin every morning and I’d say, Kevin, how’s it going? And Kevin lost every map and Kevin’s story was he was a full term. He was a 22- 24 year-old [00:59:00] young man now, but it was a term baby, but at birth, he sustained a traumatic brain injury, so he was in the IDD lane, and yet a Ted Lasso spirit of seeking curiosity and believing and being really positive was just so paramount to him.

Every morning he’d say, Sondra, can I tell you something? And I say, what? And he’d say, my opponent was impeccable. And I would say, tell me more. He said, my opponent was impeccable. He was amazing. He did so well. I was so excited to play against, lost every match, big match.

Dr. Sharp: Oh my gosh. I need to bottle some of that energy.

Dr. Sondra: Totally. And every moment was just a moment for him to revel in the experience and enjoy the process and the journey and not worry about […].

Dr. Sharp: That is a very nice note to end on. Thanks so much.

Dr. Sondra: Thank you.

Dr. Sharp: Great to connect with you.

All right, y’all. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode. Always grateful to have you here. I hope that you take away some information that you can implement in your practice and in your life. Any resources that we mentioned during the episode will be listed in the show notes. So make sure to check those out.

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If you’re a practice owner or aspiring practice owner, I’d invite you to check out The Testing Psycahologist mastermind groups. I have mastermind groups at every stage of practice development: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. We have homework. We have accountability. We have [01:01:00] support. We have resources. These groups are amazing. We do a lot of work and a lot of connecting. If that sounds interesting to you, you can check out the details at thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting. You can sign up for a pre-group phone call and we will chat and figure out if a group could be a good fit for you. Thanks so much.

The information contained in this podcast and on The Testing Psychologist website are intended for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing in this podcast or on the website is intended to be a substitute for professional, psychological, psychiatric, or medical advice, diagnosis, or [00:02:00] treatment.

Please note that no doctor-patient relationship is formed here, and similarly, no supervisory or consultative relationship is formed between the host or guests of this podcast and listeners of this podcast. If you need the qualified advice of any mental health practitioner or medical provider, please seek one in your area. Similarly, if you need supervision on clinical matters? Please find a supervisor with expertise that fits your needs.

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