Special Olympics Unified Sports Research
Special Olympics Unified
Sports Research
While it is important for people with intellectual disabilities (ID) to have social experiences
with their peers, oftentimes these experiences are elusive. For example, adolescents with
ID are more likely to participate in activities with their family or on their own than with their
peers.1,2 Research suggests that organized social activities, such as sports, may be necessary
to facilitate social involvement of people with ID in their communities.2 Unified Sports
provides people with and without ID the opportunity to play on the same sports
team, creating a space for friendships, physical activity, and fun. Research on Unified
Sports has found that Unified Sports athletes (participants with ID) experience improved
social competence and social inclusion while decreasing problem behaviors.3,4 Moreover,
Unified Sports partners (participants without ID) improve their attitudes toward people
with ID as a result of participating in the program.3 In order to build upon this impact,
Special Olympics continues to conduct research and evaluation to identify best practices
and demonstrate the impact of Unified Sports on athletes, partners, and the community.
“I can tell you this, there aren’t really many opportunities at all for her
to leave and have a fun day like that, and be with peers, whether Unified
friends or other special needs peers. It doesn’t happen at all. …I think,
something like this, to look forward to, having a feeling of activity of her
own, friends of her own, that sort of thing, there’s no question in my mind
that that’s a positive experience.”
— Parent 5
1  Hall, L. J., & Strickett, T. (2002). Peer relationships of preadolescent students with disabilities who attend a separate school. Education
and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 37(4), 399-409.
2  Abells, D., Burbidge, J., & Minnes, P. (2008). Involvement of adolescents with intellectual disabilities in social and recreational activities.
Journal on Developmental Disabilities, 14(2), 88-94.
3  Özer, D., Baran, F., Aktop, A., Nalbant, S., Ağlamış, E., & Hutzler, Y. (2012). Effects of a Special Olympics Unified Sports soccer program on
psycho-social attributes of youth with and without intellectual disability. Research in developmental disabilities, 33(1), 229-239.
4  McConkey, R., Dowling, S., Hassan, D., & Menke, S. (2012). Promoting social inclusion through Unified Sports for youth with intellectual
disabilities: a five‐nation study. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 57(10), 923-935.
5  Nanavati, J. (2015). Unified Sports in School Settings: Evidence of Impact. Washington, DC: Special Olympics International.
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