By: USA Games Correspondent, Tynan Gable
The goal of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games #ImAGameChanger campaign is to highlight the quiet heroes who promote inclusion in all that they do. This week’s nominee is no different; he strives every day to break down barriers that he and others with disabilities face.
Paul Brooks is a 24-year-old man with autism who is currently living with his mother, Celeste Brooks, in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is known for his ability to talk about the challenges he faces as a person with an intellectual disability (ID).
“The challenges of having an intellectual disability in today’s society are large; many people don’t understand people with intellectual disabilities and aren’t very accepting, but he’s trying to break down those barriers in his own life and for the betterment of the community overall,” said Celeste.
Paul came a long way to be as confident and open as he is today. As a seventh grader, he was timid and far from feeling able to speak up in the ways he does today.
“Today, Paul is a very responsible and outward-looking man, supporting others with disabilities when they are bullied, feeling excluded, or just not understanding what their future life might look like,” explained Celeste.
He was able to develop these skills through his increased involvement in the community. This includes his roles both in Special Olympics, as an athlete of ten years and future Athlete Leader, and Best Buddies, which is an organization that unites those with disabilities with a “buddy” in the community.
“People with intellectual disabilities tend to lack confidence,” said Celeste. “These two programs gave Paul what he needed to help himself and then others.”
Paul utilizes his leadership role in Best Buddies to reach as many people as possible who may benefit from his positive outlook. As a Best Buddies Global Ambassador, Paul travels to different events in the community to talk about the Best Buddies mission and ways to get involved with the organization.
“Paul is a game changer because he is not afraid to take on difficult and sensitive questions about being a person with a disability. He doesn’t walk up and randomly start talking, but instead he gets people to ask him about himself, his life, and what it’s like to be a person with a disability.”
One emphasis of Paul’s promotional efforts is the Best Buddies job placement opportunities; he has worked for four years as a gym attendant at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, a position he acquired through this program. He also takes every opportunity possible to promote the social benefits of Best Buddies.
Celeste described how, “people with intellectual disabilities often have a difficult time finding people to connect with, so Paul always seizes the opportunity to talk about his experiences and how he can demonstrate all that Best Buddies has to offer.”
He plans to use his passion for helping others and the associate degree in Communications that he will receive next year to open a facility that will educate people with disabilities about fitness and nutrition. His goal is to help people with intellectual disabilities understand the importance of working out, staying fit, and learning about nutrition, which he sees as being how to eat and what to fuel the body with.
Celeste noted that, “people with intellectual disabilities sometimes have issues with weight control, healthy eating, and being fit. He recognizes the need for education and wants to open a facility within five years of graduating.”
With big plans in the future that will benefit the lives of people with disabilities, Paul’s game-changing days are far from over. He will continue to use the challenges he has overcome to help people understand that it’s okay to have an intellectual disability.
As Celeste described, Paul “promotes the idea that it’s okay to be different. He approaches each day with this belief. It’s like he lives it, breaths it, and does it - it’s that simple.”