Special Olympics is an international program of year-round sports and athletic competition for children and adults with developmental disabilities. The Special Olympics Oath is “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

The Special Olympics Mission is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for individuals with developmental disabilities by giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness; demonstrate courage; experience joy; and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendships with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

The benefits of participation in Special Olympics for people with developmental disabilities include improved physical fitness and motor skills, greater self-confidence, a more positive self-image, friendships, and increased family support. Special Olympics athletes carry these benefits with them into their daily lives at home, in the classroom, on the job and in the community. Families who participate become stronger as they learn a greater appreciation of the athlete’s talents. Community volunteers find out what good friends the athletes can be. And everyone learns more about the capabilities of people with developmental disabilities and other cognitive delays.

Special Olympics began in 1968 when Eunice Kennedy Shriver organized the First International Special Olympics Games at Soldier Field, in Chicago. The concept was born in the early 1960s when Shriver started a day camp for people with mental retardation (then regarded in that time period as acceptable terminology). She saw that these individuals were far more capable in sports and physical activities than many people thought. Since 1968, millions of children and adults with developmental disabilities have participated in Special Olympics.

To be eligible to participate in Special Olympics, athletes must be at least eight years old and identified by an agency or professional as having one of the following conditions:

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

Special Olympics provides year-round training and competition in 24 official sports. Special Olympics has developed and tested training programs that are outlines in a Sports Skills Guide for each sport. More than 140,000 qualified volunteer coaches train Special Olympics athletes.

** Significant learning or vocational problems refer to those learning problems resulting from cognitive 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.