Our Impact

Advocating Inclusion: The Story of Sahil and His Mother

A teenage boy sits at a desk with his peer, smiling at the camera. He holds a pen in his hand, touching a notebook on his desk. There room is full of youth and adults at desks in the background.
Sahil at a Youth Leadership workshop.

One of parents’ many roles is to be advocates for their children, ensuring they are loved, nurtured and afforded important opportunities in life. This commitment to advocacy may burn even more fiercely among parents of children with intellectual disabilities. Take, for example, the story of Sahil.

Sahil and his mother, Dr. Bhawana Singh, live in Uttar Pradesh in the northern part of India. Sahil has Down Syndrome and currently attends an integrated school—a setting that is relatively common across India. While these schools physically include students of all abilities, they have struggled with providing social opportunities where students can connect and interact. For years, that was exactly Sahil’s school experience: being present, but not being included in any sports, events, or social activities. Nevertheless, Dr. Singh continued to be an advocate for her son, knowing that if he were given the opportunity, he would blossom and shine. Dr. Singh dreamed of the day that Sahil would be allowed to participate in school activities with a full range of his peers.

“Unified Schools programming has sensitized and spread awareness about the capabilities of people with disabilities in society. It encourages people to engage ‘with’ the athletes and not only ‘for’ them. It helps all segments of society in improving acceptance and compassion towards people with differences.”
Dr. Singh, Sahil’s mother
An adult woman and a teenage boy sit together, smiling at the camera, in front of flowers. The woman has her arm around the boy.
Sahil and his mother, Dr. Singh.

Dr. Singh’s dreams became reality in 2019 when Play Unified: Learn Unified was introduced at her son’s school. Sahil was quickly selected and trained as a Youth Leader, where he soon built friendships with his peers without disabilities. Sahil’s ability to lead was recognized not only by his teachers and peers, but also by leaders of Special Olympics Bharat and Special Olympics Asia Pacific. He now represents his school and Special Olympics Bharat in events across Asia Pacific—a very prestigious role and one at which his mother had predicted he would excel. As a Youth Leader, Sahil participates in online forums such as family and sibling workshops. His communication and social skills have increased immensely; thanks in large part to his training as a Youth Leader, he is now social, affable, and compassionate towards others. Last year, Sahil and his sibling competed as Unified Partners and earned a gold medal in Uttar Pradesh’s basketball dribbling competition.

Three young men in a school hallway wit their arms around each other. Two wear graduation caps. They are wearing matching ESPN and Special Olympics purple polos and Special Olympics lanyards.
Sahil and his friends after graduating from a Youth Leadership workshop.

Dr. Singh has seen a change in the culture of her son’s school, too, saying that, “Unified Schools programming has sensitized and spread awareness about the capabilities of people with disabilities in society. It encourages people to engage ‘with’ the athletes and not only ‘for’ them. It helps all segments of society in improving acceptance and compassion towards people with differences.” As Dr. Singh continues to be an advocate for her son, she is proud that he has found his own voice and accepted the opportunity to be an advocate for himself. Play Unified: Learn Unified has provided a public platform of self-respect for Sahil and thousands of other young people across India.

Unified Schools
Special Olympics Bharat has created 417 new Unified Schools since 2018 through Play Unified: Learn Unified. With support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Play Unified: Learn Unified has trained nearly 800 Youth Leaders, helping youth with intellectual disabilities, like Sahil, and youth without find their voice.

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