FAQs

Below are answers to questions that often come up about Special Olympics.

When is Special Olympics?
Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia program (SOPA-Philly) provides year-round sports training and competition. Special Olympics happens every day! We host hundreds of events, competitions, trainings, and fundraisers each year. For a complete listing of events, visit our events page.

In addition to competing locally in Philadelphia, SOPA-Philly athletes have the chance to compete at the regional, state, national and international levels. Every two years, the Special Olympics World Games are held, alternating between winter and summer events. These games are patterned after the traditional Olympic Games and follow many of the same customs, rules and regulations.

Is Special Olympics for all disabled children and adults? Who do you serve?
Special Olympics provides training and athletic competition for people ages 8 and above with intellectual disabilities. It is a common misconception that Special Olympics only provides programming for children. In fact, we have many teenagers and adults in our programs, since many athletes stay with Special Olympics for life.

  • A person is considered to have an intellectual disability for purposes of determining his or her eligibility to participate in Special Olympics if that person satisfies any one of the following requirements:
    • The person has been identified by an agency or professional as having an intellectual disability as determined by their localities; or
    • The person has a cognitive delay, as determined by standardized measures such as intelligent quotient or “IQ” testing or other measures that are generally accepted within the professional community in that Accredited Program’s nation as being a reliable measurement of the existence of a cognitive delay; or
    • The person has a closely related developmental disability. A “closely related developmental disability” means having functional limitations in both general learning (such as IQ) and in adaptive skills (such as in recreation, work, independent living, self-direction, or self-care). However, persons whose functional limitations are based solely on a physical, behavioral, or emotional disability, or a specific learning or sensory disability, are not eligible to participate as Special Olympics athletes, but may be eligible to volunteer for Special Olympics as partners in Unified Sports®, if they otherwise meet the separate eligibility requirements for participation in Unified Sports set forth in the Sports Rules.

While some participants also have a physical disability, the primary criterion for inclusion in Special Olympics is an intellectual disability.

What is an intellectual disability?
According to the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), an individual is considered to have an intellectual disability based on the following three criteria:

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

Is a person with a physical disability eligible to participate in Special Olympics?
Yes, if the person also has intellectual disability.

Are people with autism eligible for Special Olympics?
Special Olympics serves individuals with intellectual disabilities. Those with some of the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are eligible for Special Olympics, while others are not. We rely on the assessment and advice of professionals (teachers, counselors, doctors) working with the individual to determine eligibility for Special Olympics. If you are interested in becoming involved but are not sure of your eligibility, please e-mail Britt Kleine, for more information.

How old do you need to be to compete in Special Olympics?
You must be at least 8 years old to participate in Special Olympics competition.

How do I get involved?
To get started as a volunteer or sponsor/donor, visit the Get Involved section of our Web site. There you’ll find additional information on various opportunities – from coaching or serving as an event volunteer to joining a team or becoming a sponsor.

You can also visit our calendar to find out what’s happening next, or complete the online Volunteer Interest Form.

If you’re interested in becoming an athlete, visit our “Compete” section for information on how to enroll, the sports we offer and our training and competition schedules.

Is there a fee for athletes to participate?
There is no cost to any athlete to join Special Olympics or to compete in any of the competitions. The Philadelphia program covers the costs of training, uniforms, registration fees and travel for all levels of competition. Costs associated with regional and state championships are shared by the Philadelphia program and the Special Olympics Pennsylvania state office.

What is the divisioning process?
Special Olympics involves athletes with intellectual disabilities from all ability levels. In order to assure fair competition, athletes are placed in “divisions” with other athletes of similar or equal ability. This allows all athletes a fair opportunity to compete with a chance to place first or win. The divisioning process consists of evaluating teams as they play, or by organizing athletes based on entry scores.

What sports do you offer?
The Philadelphia Special Olympics program offers 11 Olympic-type individual and team sports that provide meaningful training and competition opportunities for persons with intellectual disabilities at all skill levels. Check out our Sports and Seasons page for more info.

What is a Global Messenger? What is Athlete Leadership?
The Global Messenger program offers public speaking and presentation skills training to Special Olympics athletes, who in turn help spread the message and vision of Special Olympics.

The Global Messenger program is part of our Athlete Leadership Programs (ALPs), which allow athletes the chance to explore opportunities for Special Olympics participation in roles previously considered “non-traditional.” Such participation might come in the form of serving on the Board of Directors or local organizing committee, or an athlete might serve as a spokesperson, team captain, coach or official.

For more information on the Global Messenger program, or to invite a Special Olympics Global Messenger to speak to your school, civic group, church, business or anywhere else, please contact Michelle Cordell at mcordell@specialolympicspa.org.

Is Special Olympics part of the Olympics?
Special Olympics and the International Olympic Committee are two separate organizations. A protocol agreement has been signed between the groups. Special Olympics is the only organization officially authorized by the International Olympic Committee to use the word “Olympics” in its proper name. Many Special Olympics national programs have excellent working relationships with their respective National Olympics Committees.

What’s the difference between the Special Olympics and the Paralympics?
Special Olympics involves athletes from all ability levels who have intellectual disabilities; some may also have physical disabilities. Paralympics involves athletes with physical disabilities who compete only at the elite sports level. Both Special Olympics and the Paralympics are recognized by the International Olympic Committee.