To be eligible for Special Olympics, participants must have an intellectual disability; a cognitive delay, or a developmental disability.

Overall, inclusion is preferred to exclusion when eligibility is in question. 


Our programs include but are not limited to athletes with the following disabilities or challenges:

Neurodevelopmental Disorders

  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Fragile X Syndrome
  • Language and Speech Disorders
  • Learning Disabilities
Genetic and Syndromic Conditions:
  • Apert Syndrome
  • Down Syndrome
  • Prader-Willi
  • Williams Syndrome

Neuromuscular Conditions: 

  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Muscular Dystrophy

Sensory Impairments

  • Developmental Hearing Loss
    Vision Impairment
Prenatal and Developmental Issues:
  • Developmental Delay
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
  • Kernicterus
  • Phenylketonuria (PKU)

Neurological Conditions:

  • Tourette Syndrome

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:

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

Adaptive skills are assessed in the person’s every-day environment across all aspects of their 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.

Overall, inclusion is preferred to exclusion when eligibility is in question. 

What about physical disabilities?

The primary focus of Special Olympics Ontario is to enrich the lives of individuals with an intellectual disability through sport. Focus on intellectual disability is what differentiates Special Olympics from the Paralympics, which serves individuals with physical disabilities. The International Olympic Committee recognizes Special Olympics and Paralympics as two separate and distinct sport organizations, that meet the needs of two separate communities of athletes.

How much athletic skill or experience is needed?

Athletes of all ability levels are encouraged to participate in Special Olympics programs. Through the use of equitable divisioning, competitions are structured so that athletes compete with other athletes of similar abilities.

Is there a minimum age to participate?

Each Special Olympics program has specific age guidelines, depending on the type of activity. Community based programs offer athletes the programs necessary to develop important skills required in sport and everyday life. You can start as early as two years of age, but you are never 'too old' to start!

Active Start and FUNdamentals are innovative play programs for children with intellectual disabilities that focus on physical literacy and basic motor skills development. Active Start and FUNdamentals are open to children between the ages of two and 12.

Special Olympics community and competitive programs, on the other hand, do have a minimum age requirement of eight years of age. Our competitive athlete programs start locally, and can grow to international competition depending on athlete wishes and development.

If you would like to learn more about what programs your community offers, please register as an athlete today, and our Program Coordinators will be in touch!