Section B:
Athlete Eligibility

According to the World Health Organization, intellectual disability is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of the mind characterized by impairment of skills and overall intelligence in areas such as cognition, language, and motor and social abilities. Intellectual disability can occur with or without any other physical or mental disorders. Although reduced level of intellectual functioning is the characteristic feature of this disorder, the diagnosis is made only if it is associated with a diminished ability to adapt to the daily demands of the normal social environment. (Visit www.who.int for more information.)

Special Olympics’ range of services, from the Motor Activities Training Program to Unified Sports®, addresses the needs of individuals at their current functional level. Special Olympics is a valuable support system that recognizes differences and celebrates individual accomplishments.

Eligibility for Participation

Special Olympics was created and developed to give individuals with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to train and compete in sports activities. No person shall, on the grounds of gender, race, religion, color or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, and/or be otherwise subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of Special Olympics.

Athletes must compete in the area program and events within the geographical boundaries where they live. Coaches may petition their area program staff if they would like to compete in events outside their area boundaries. Athletes may not substitute their area’s competition for another. Competing in another area’s event is an option only to add additional competition opportunities. The area program staff will assist coaches in locating the next closest competition. An athlete must compete at the area level before advancing in the same sport to the chapter level.

Athletes must play to the best of their abilities, to provide for fair and equitable competition, and must adhere to sportsmanlike conduct.

Identification of Special Olympics Eligibility

The person is 2* years of age or older and…

*Athlete's age

  • 2-7 may participate in Young Athletes and as Athletes in Training
  • 8+ may train and compete in Local and Area competitions
  • 12+ may train and compete in Local, Area, and Chapter competitions

Definition of Eligibility

Eligibility is limited to people who have closely related developmental disabilities such as those who have functional limitations, both in general learning and in adaptive skills such as recreation, work, independent living, self-direction or self-care. When the term “intellectual disabilities” or other similar descriptor is not used to identify the person in a local area, eligibility should be determined by whether or not the person has functional limitations in both general learning and adaptive skills. “Developmental disability” is the term most often used to describe people with both limitations. Other terms that may be used synonymously with developmental disability are developmental handicap, developmental delay or severe disabilities.

General learning limitations refers to substantial deficits in conceptual, practical and social intelligence that will result in performance problems in academic learning and/or general life functioning. Learning limitations may be assessed by standardized tests (e.g., intelligence or achievement tests) or through criterion-referenced measures (e.g., teacher/parent observations or actual performance samples).

Adaptive skill limitations refers to ongoing performance deficits in skill areas considered essential to successful life functioning. These adaptive skill areas include: communication, self-care, home-living, social skills, community use, self-direction, health and safety, functional academics, recreation/leisure and work. Adaptive skills limitations may be measured by standardized tests (e.g., adaptive behavior scales or checklists) or through criterion-referenced measures (e.g., teacher/parent observations or actual performance samples).

People with functional limitations based solely on a physical, behavioral, emotional, specific learning disability or sensory disability are not eligible.

Some flexibility is left to accredited programs and subprograms for determining, in exceptional circumstances, the individual eligibility of a participant because of the variety of situations, needs and definitions that exist in the many localities where Special Olympics has been and will be instituted. The accredited program must inform Special Olympics, Inc. (SOI), in writing and with appropriate evidence, of these potential exceptions, and the program’s determination of eligibility is subject to SOI’s approval. Coaches should contact the Vice President of Field Services at the chapter office for more information.

People who have multiple disabilities may participate in Special Olympics provided they meet the eligibility requirements.

Atlantoaxial Instability (AAI)

Participation by Individuals with Down Syndrome

An athlete with Down Syndrome will no longer be required to automatically undergo an x-ray examination as a requirement for participation. The new medical form procedures include an assessment of symptoms of adverse neurological effect that replaces the x-ray examination requirement.

If an athlete was x-rayed at the time of registration and was found to have an AAI condition, he or she may follow the new rule and be examined for symptoms of adverse neurological effects as part of a “renewal” medical examination. If the athlete does not have these symptoms, then he or she may be cleared for participation by a Licensed Medical Professional.

If the athlete does have symptoms, then he or she may only participate if the athlete receives a thorough neurological evaluation from a physician qualified to state that the cause of those symptoms will not result in additional risk of neurological injury due to sports participation and certifies that the athlete may participate. The athlete of the parent or guardian of a minor athlete must sign an informed consent document that acknowledges they have been informed of the findings and determinations of the physician.

Until all athletes have been screened using the new neurological method, the neurological status of athletes that have only been screened by x-ray is unknown. Precautions will still need to be taken for these athletes.

Consent/Participant Release Form

The Athlete medical previously included Consent/Participant Release documentation. The Consent had to be signed each time the medical was turned in by a parent/guardian, or by the athlete if they were 18 and they were their own guardian.

The new process for the Consent/Participant Release is that the documentation has been pulled from the current medical and a stand-alone form has been created. This document only has to be signed once upon the athlete's initial registration with Special Olympics Texas, unless guardianship changes and the the Release must be signed again by the new guardian. Athletes can still sign as their own guardian if they are 18 and represent themselves.

Athletes who are currently competing will not have to have the Release resigned but will be considered compliant based on the current release that is on file.

Athlete Enrollment/Medical Instructions

In 2015, Special Olympics, Inc. rolled out a new medical which will lead to a better quality pre-participation physical, and a greater ability for Special Olympics to assess the hearth status of our athletes as a whole.

To enroll to become an athlete, complete an Athlete Enrollment/Medical Release Form.

Athletes, parents and or caregivers only will complete the first three pages of the form. Physicians will complete the fourth page during the physical examination. The fifth page will only be used if a referral is necessary. For the majority of athletes, the completed form will be only the first four pages. The fifth page is only for the limited number of people not initially cleared to participate.

A form is considered complete if the appropriate medical practitioner signs the medical form and indicates that the athlete is cleared for participation, and the form reflects all the necessary signatures. Medical professionals approved to sign the form are as follows: Licensed Physician (MD), Physician Assistant licensed by the State Board of Physicians Assistant Examiners, or a Registered Nurse recognized as an advanced practice nurse by the Board of Nurse Examiners.

The purpose of the new medical form is to provide a clear and accurate health history. If there are not changes to the athlete’s medical history, only page three and/or four are required to be updated. However, if there have been changes to the athletes’ health, then a full medical form will need to be completed and signed by registrants.

Every athlete will need a doctor to review their medical status and sign page 4 every 3 years. Check “Renewal” at the top of the medical if the athlete medical is expiring and an update is being submitted. A doctor’s signature is required. Check “Update” if the medical has not expired but the athletes medications have changed or their address needs up dating. No doctor's signature is required.

Athlete in Training (AIT)

An Athlete in Training (AIT) is a person with intellectual disabilities who trains in a Special Olympics sport but has not competed during the calendar year. These athletes, if training under the umbrella of a school district or other agency, and are not traveling to train outside their school or agency, do not need to have a medical release form on file. They must, however, be registered via the Athlete in Training Roster. If confidentiality is an issue, then the first name and last initial of the athlete may be used instead of the full name. The head of delegation must include the athlete's date of birth, gender and sport in which they are training. This form can be found on page B-12.

Young Athletes Program (YAP)

Children who participate in Young Athletes are also considered Athletes in Training. These athletes will be registered via a roster form. The form can be found here as a pdf and here as a Word document.

Athletes who are eligible to participate in the Young Athletes program may not continue to be eligible for Special Olympics competition once they have reached their potential developmental level. If this is the case, the athlete will be able to hold other roles within Special Olympics such as: Partners Clubs, Unified Sports® partner or volunteer.

Athlete Code of Conduct

Written by athletes the intent of the Code of Conduct is to provide behavior guidelines and set expectations for athletes. As representatives of the organization, athletes should always conduct themselves in a positive manner; exhibit respect for others and have positive interpersonal relationships; and be honest, trustworthy and courteous on and off the field of play. Participation may be suspended or revoked if an athlete is found to behave in a significantly inappropriate manner.

Upon entering Special Olympics Texas as an athlete of the organization, the coach should review and have the athlete sign the form (if possible). At that time, the coach should explain what the consequences are of the athlete not following the Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct Agreement needs to be signed only once while the athlete participates with any given team. If the athlete changes teams, the Code of Conduct should be reviewed with the new coach, consequences explained and the Code of Conduct Agreement signed again. The Athlete Code of Conduct Agreement should be kept on file by the head coach or head of delegation.