Designed as a qualitative rather than quantitative study, this research was designed to explore how family members of Special Olympics athletes are involved in the movement, how parents and other family members benefit from this involvement, and the impact it has on their perceptions of their children with intellectual disability. It studied families from four state Programs in the United States.
Overall, findings can be used to draw two conclusions. First, Special Olympics operates as a powerful engine of connection for the families of athletes, providing opportunities for families to forge new relationships and strengthen existing ones both within the family and with others. Second, the organization provides athletes and their families with normative life experience that are critical to healthy development.
Social support is a critical source of well-being for all families, and perhaps especially for families of youth with disabilities. By strengthening relationships within families and fostering opportunities to meet other families who are dealing with similar situations, Special Olympics offers families a deep sense of connection that contributes to their general well-being.
Other research has documented multi-faceted benefits to participation in sports for youth in their schools and communities. Young people with intellectual disabilities are often excluded from these activities. Most family members interviewed for this study mentioned that through Special Olympics, they are able to have the same type of experiences that families with children without intellectual disabilities have.