We are often asked for more details about Special Olympics, our athletes and our history. The most frequently asked questions and answers are below.
For other questions, please feel free to contact us at [email protected] and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.

  • What is Special Olympics?

    Special Olympics is a global organization that changes lives by promoting understanding, acceptance and inclusion among people with and without intellectual disabilities. We unleash the power of the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports, every day around the world. Through year-round sports, health, education and community building, we change the lives of people with intellectual disabilities in more than 170 countries. We are providing opportunities and helping fight the intolerance, injustice, inactivity and social isolation faced by our 4.2 million athletes. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities continuing opportunities to realize their potential, develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy and friendship. Everyone involved in Special Olympics — including our one million coaches and volunteers — also benefits as we strive together for excellence and appreciation of all different abilities.

  • What is Special Olympics mission?

    To provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

  • Who is eligible to participate in Special Olympics?

    To be eligible to participate in Special Olympics, you must be at least 8 years old and identified by an agency or professional as having one of the following conditions: intellectual disabilities, cognitive delays as measured by formal assessment, or significant learning or vocational problems due to cognitive delay that require or have required specially designed instruction. The Special Olympics Young Athletes™ program was created for children with intellectual disabilities ages 2 through 7.

  • How many people are involved in Special Olympics?

    More than 4.2 million athletes with intellectual disabilities are involved in Special Olympics programs around the world. In addition, we have more than 1 million coaches and volunteers across 220 Programs in more than 170 countries.

  • Why use the term ‘Special’?

    In the 1960s, when Special Olympics was founded, “retarded” was the acceptable term to describe people with intellectual disabilities. This was a time when people with intellectual disabilities were routinely institutionalized because their gifts and talents were not recognized. That’s why Eunice Kennedy Shriver wanted to use language that was positive — language that would help set an upbeat tone. There were many conversations about words that could best describe an exceptional group of people. Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw the adjective “special” as a way to define the unique gifts of adults and children with intellectual disabilities. Starting with the very first Special Olympics International Games in 1968, she wanted to dwell on our athletes’ abilities, not disabilities.

  • What is the Special Olympics athlete oath?

    “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

  • What is the origin of the Special Olympics athlete oath?

    Eunice Kennedy Shriver jotted down the Special Olympics athlete oath on the morning of July 20, 1968 — just ahead of the opening of the very first Special Olympics International Games. She recited them at a brief Opening Ceremony at Chicago’s Soldier Field before the start of competition.

    The words emphasize the importance of effort — and trying for one’s personal best. Nearly 50 years later, these words resonate with Special Olympics athletes: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt.”

  • Can individuals with profound disabilities participate in Special Olympics?

    Yes, through Special Olympics Motor Activities Training Program (MATP), developed by physical educators, physical therapists and recreation therapists. MATP emphasizes training and participation rather than competition.

  • What is the difference between Special Olympics and Paralympics?

    Special Olympics and Paralympics are two separate organizations. Special Olympics is recognized as the third member of the Olympic family, providing year-round sports, sports training, and local, regional, national and international competitions for all learning disability levels.

    Paralympics provides elite level sports competition for multi-disabled groups including physical and deaf.

  • What impact does Special Olympics have on athletes?

    Children and adults with intellectual disabilities who participate in Special Olympics develop improved physical fitness and motor skills, greater self-confidence and a more positive self-image. They grow mentally, socially and spiritually and, through their activities, exhibit boundless courage and enthusiasm enjoy the rewards of friendship and ultimately discover not only new abilities and talents but “their voices” as well.

  • What is divisioning?

    In Special Olympics competitions, athletes of all ability levels are encouraged to participate, and every athlete is recognized for his or her performance. Through a process called divisioning, Special Olympics competitions are structured so that athletes compete with other athletes of similar gender, age and ability in equitable divisions. This makes for exciting competitions!

  • Who was Eunice Kennedy Shriver?

    Eunice Mary Kennedy (1921-2009) was born in Brookline, Mass., USA, the fifth of nine children of Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy. After graduating from college, she worked for the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., and later became a social worker at the Penitentiary for Women in Alderson, West Va. She later moved to Chicago, Ill., where she worked with the House of the Good Shepherd and the Chicago Juvenile Court. Starting in the 1950s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver pushed for research and programs that would benefit people with intellectual disabilities. She was the driving force behind President John F. Kennedy’s White House panel on people with intellectual disabilities. For this neglected population, Shriver said, “the years of indifference and neglect, the years of callous cynicism and entrenched prejudice are drawing to a close. The years of research and experiment…are upon us now with all their promise and challenge. “She continued this pioneering work as director of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. In 1962, she began an experimental camp in her backyard for young people with intellectual disabilities, which continued throughout the 1960s. Her work eventually grew into the Special Olympics Movement, which launched at the first Special Olympics International Games on July 20, 1968.

  • Who was Rosemary Kennedy?

    Rosemary Kennedy (1918-2005) was the oldest daughter of Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy.

    Rosemary was born with intellectual disabilities and was known to have talents in many areas, especially sports. One of her most frequent companions was her sister, Eunice Kennedy, who was three years younger.

    Rosemary was one of the inspirations for Eunice’s interest in creating a better world for people with intellectual disabilities. Rosemary grew up during a time when people did not talk about intellectual disabilities. When Eunice wrote a 1962 article in the Saturday Evening Post about Rosemary and the Kennedy family’s struggles finding her proper care, it became known as a “watershed” event in changing public attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities.

  • Who was Sargent Shriver?

    From the Peace Corps to Head Start to Special Olympics and beyond, Robert Sargent “Sarge” Shriver (1915-2011) worked to give everyone the chance to reach their full potential. He was a World War II veteran of the U.S. Navy who earned a Purple Heart for wounds received during the bombardment of Guadalcanal. He married Eunice Kennedy in 1953.Shriver was a key strategist during the presidential campaign of his brother-in-law, John F. Kennedy. During the Kennedy and Johnson presidential administrations, Shriver founded several vital programs and agencies, including the Peace Corps, Head Start, VISTA and the Job Corps, among others. He later served as President of the Special Olympics movement, as well as Chairman and Chairman of the Board Emeritus. With his leadership, Special Olympics expanded into the Middle East, Far East, the former Soviet Republic and elsewhere.

  • When are Special Olympics World Games held?

    Special Olympics World Games are held every two years, alternating with Summer and Winter Games. The next Special Olympics World Games happen next year: the Special Olympics World Summer Games from 25 July-2 August 2015 in Los Angeles, Calif., USA.

    The most recent World Winter Games were the 2013 World Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. The next Special Olympics World Winter Games will be in Graz and Schladming, Austria from 14-24 March 2017.The last Special Olympics World Summer Games were held in Athens, Greece, from 25 June-4 July 2011.The first Special Olympics International Summer Games were held in Chicago, Illinois, USA, in 1968. The first World Winter Games were held in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, USA, in 1977. In addition to the World Games, Special Olympics holds competitions at the local, state/province, country, region and world level every year. In all, more than 70,000 Special Olympics competitions are held every year.

  • What does the Special Olympics logo signify?

    The Special Olympics logo depicts five figures in a unifying circle, symbolizing our global presence.

    The figures have arms in a lowered position, recalling the time when many people were unaware of the talents and abilities of adults and children with intellectual disabilities — a time before the founding of Special Olympics.

    The straight arms describe a greater equality and outreach. The raised arms represent joy and continued realization of ultimate goals.

  • What is the Athlete Leadership Program (ALPS)?

    The Athlete Leadership Program offers athletes opportunities to cultivate their leadership potential both on and off the field. Through ALPS, athletes can develop skills to become spokespersons, coaches, and officials and have opportunities to serve on local organizing committees, the Management Team of Special Olympics Indiana-Ripley Ohio Dearborn Counties and Special Olympics Indiana Board of Directors.

  • What is Unified Sports?

    Special Olympics Unified Sports is a program that brings together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities (Unified Partners) of similar age and athletic ability to train and compete on the same sports teams. This program is continually expanding and offered in nearly all Indiana sports.

  • What are intellectual disabilities?

    According to the definition by the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), an individual is considered to have an intellectual disability (mental retardation*) based on the following three criteria:

    1. Intellectual functioning level (IQ) is below 70-75;
    2. Significant limitations exist in two or more adaptive skill areas; and
    3. The condition manifests itself before the age of 18.

    Adaptive skill areas are those daily living skills needed to live, work and play in the community. The definition includes 10 adaptive skills: communication, self-care, home living, social skills, leisure, health and safety, self-direction, functional academics, community use and work.

    Adaptive skills are assessed in the person s typical environment across all aspects of an individual’s life. A person with limits in intellectual functioning who does not have limits in adaptive skill areas may not be diagnosed as having an intellectual disability.

    Children with an intellectual disability grow into adults with an intellectual disability; they do not remain “eternal children”.

    A person is eligible to participate in Special Olympics if they have been identified by an agency of professional as having intellectual disabilities as determined by their localities. The minimum age requirement for participation in Special Olympics competition is eight years of age. Special Olympics also recently launched the Young Athletes Program, an innovative sports play program for children with intellectual disabilities between the ages of 2-7, which engages young athletes through developmentally appropriate play activities designed to foster physical, cognitive, and social development while also introducing them to the world of sports prior to Special Olympics eligibility at age eight.

  • How prevalent are intellectual disabilities?

    The following statistics and information on intellectual disabilities have been adapted from information from the Population Reference Bureau, The Arc (formerly the Association for Retarded Citizens), the World Health Organization and various associations for people with disabilities.

    According to the World Health Organization, up to three percent or almost 200 million people of the World’s population have intellectual disabilities this is the largest disability population in the world. Intellectual Disabilities knows no boundaries. It cuts across the lines of racial, ethnic, educational, social and economic backgrounds, and it can occur in any family.

  • What is the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR)?

    The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics is an international series of relays by law enforcement officers to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics.

  • What is the Healthy Athlete Program?

    Special Olympics Healthy Athletes helps athletes to improve their training and competition by focusing on overall health and fitness. This is achieved through basic health screenings during Special Olympics events, provision of preventative and treatment services, educational information and referrals for follow-up care.

  • What is Champions Together?

    Champions Together is a collaborative partnership between the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics Indiana that promotes servant leadership among student athletes while changing their lives as well as the lives of those with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics International is supporting Champions Together as a model program to activate schools through “Project Unify: which also has the endorsement of the National Federation of High Schools.

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