Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to questions that often come up about Special Olympics Virginia. You can also review answers to frequently asked questions about donations and sponsorship
When is Special Olympics?Is Special Olympics for all disabled children and adults?What is an intellectual disability?Is a person with a physical disability eligible to participate in Special Olympics?Are people with autism eligible for Special Olympics?How old do you need to be to compete in Special Olympics?How do I get involved?Is there a fee for athletes to participate?
How many athletes receive medals at state events?What is the divisioning process?In which Special Olympics Virginia region/area do I live?What sports do you offer?What is a Global Messenger? What is Athlete Leadership? Is Special Olympics part of the Olympics?What’s the difference between the Special Olympics and the Paralympics? When is Special Olympics?
Special Olympics Virginia is a year-round program of sports training and competition. In any given calendar year, we conduct more than 2,000 events. For a complete listing of events in your area, visit our events calendar
In addition to local, regional and state-level competitions
, athletes have the chance to compete at the national and international level. 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.Back to topIs 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. There also are opportunities for athletes as young as 2 years old to train in our Young Athletes™
To be eligible to participate, athletes must be identified by an agency or professional as having one of the following conditions:
1. Intellectual disability
2. Cognitive delays as measured by formal assessment
3. Significant learning or vocational problems due to cognitive delays that have required specially designed instruction.
While some participants also have a physical disability, the primary criterion for inclusion in Special Olympics is an intellectual disability.Back to topWhat is an intellectual disability?
According to the American Association of Intellectual and Development Disabilities (AAIDD), an individual is considered to have an intellectual disability (mental retardation) 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 18Back to topIs a person with a physical disability eligible to participate in Special Olympics?
Yes, if the person also has intellectual disability.Back to topAre 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 Jennifer Gordon
, Shenandoah Region Project Manager, or call her at 540.433.7475 or 800.526.6133, for more information.Back to topHow 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. In addition, Special Olympics Virginia has introduced the Young Athletes™
program, which provides sports skills opportunities to children between ages 2 and 7.Back to topHow 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 Unified Sports®
team or becoming a Special Olympics Virginia sponsor.
You can also visit our calendar
to find out what’s happening in your area, or sign up for our Volunteer News
, which we send via e-mail at the beginning of each sports season (about 4 times a year). The Volunteer News contains volunteer opportunities that are available near where you live, as well as your Region’s leadership contacts..
If you’re interested in becoming an athlete, visit our Athlete
section for information on how to enroll, the sports we offer and our Special Programs
, including our Healthy Athletes®
and Global Messenger
initiatives.Back to topIs there a fee for athletes to participate?
There is no cost to any athlete to join Special Olympics Virginia or to compete in any of the competitions. Costs associated with regional and state championships are shared by the Special Olympics Virginia state office and the area programs. Area programs cover the costs of training, uniforms, registration fees and travel for all levels of competition.Back to topHow many athletes receive medals at state events?
At Special Olympics Virginia state-level competitions, medals are awarded for first through third place (gold, silver and bronze). All other places receive a ribbon. Coaches do not receive medals.Back to topWhat 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.In which Special Olympics Virginia region/area do I live?
Locate your region and area program using our statewide map
Special Olympics Virginia is divided into eight regions. Each of these regions is broken down into several area programs. Regions are managed by Region Directors, while area programs are managed by volunteer Area Coordinators and Area Councils. Area Councils, made up of volunteers, are the governing body of the area programs.
The Richmond office serves as Special Olympics Virginia’s corporate headquarters and it houses the majority of our staff, as well as the James River Region Director and the Urban Programs
Director.Back to topWhat sports do you offer?
Special Olympics Virginia offers 22 Olympic-type individual and team sports, 13 of which are offered at the state level, that provide meaningful training and competition opportunities for persons with intellectual disabilities at all skill levels. Access our list of sports
and details on each.Back to topWhat is a Global Messenger? What is Athlete Leadership?
The Global Messenger program offers public speaking and presentation skills training to Special Olympics Virginia 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, visit our Global Messenger
section. For more information on our Athlete Leadership Programs, visit our Athlete Leadership
section.Back to topIs 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.Back to top
What’s the difference between the Special Olympics and the Paralympics?
Special Olympics involves athletes from all ability levels who have intellectual disabilities; some also may 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.Back to top