Special Olympics Athlete

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To be eligible for participation in Special Olympics, a competitormust agree to observe and abide by the Official Special Olympics Sports Rules.

Special Olympics was created and developed to give individuals with intellectual disability the opportunity to train and compete in sports activities. No person shall, on the grounds of sex, race, religion, color, sexual orientation or national origin, be excluded fromparticipation in, be denied the benefits of or otherwise subjected to discrimination under any programor activity of Special Olympics.

To be eligible to participate in Special Olympics, an athletemust be at least eight years old and:

  1. have been identified by an agency or professional as having an intellectual disability; or
  2. have a cognitive delay (learn slower than their peers) as determined by standardizedmeasures; or
  3. have significant learning or vocational problems** due to cognitive delays which require or have required specially-designed instruction***.


Some flexibility is left to Accredited Programs and sub-Programs for determining, in exceptional circumstances, individual eligibility of a participant because of the variety of situations, needs and definitions that exist in themany localities where Special Olympics has been and will be instituted.

  • **Significant learning or vocational problems refer to those learning problems resulting fromcognitive delays (intellectual impairment). These do not include physical disability, emotional or behavioral difficulties or specific disabilities such as dyslexia or speech or language impairment.
  • ***Specially-designed instruction refers to time when a person is receiving supportive education or remedial instruction directed at the cognitive delay.  In the case of adults, specially-designed instruction is usually replaced with specially-designed programs in the workplace, or in the support work place, or in supported work or at home.

Who is the Special Olympics Athlete

  1. At least eight years of age
  2. Male or female
  3. Individuals with intellectual disability. According to the definition by the American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR), an individual is considered to have intellectual disability if they experience the following three criteria:
  • Below average intellectual functioning level (two years ormore behind peers)
  • Significant limitations exist in two ormore adaptive skill areas.

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 areasmay not be diagnosed as having intellectual disability.

  • The conditionmanifests itself before the age of 18. Children with intellectual disability grow into adults with intellectual disability; they do not remain “eternal children.”