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Intellectual Disability


On February 24, 2004, the Special Olympics International Board of Directors adopted a resolution to change the official terminology of Special Olympics to “intellectual disabilities” from “mental retardation”.

A person is considered to have an intellectual disability for purposes of determining his or her eligibility to participate in Special Olympics if that person satisfies any one of the following requirements:

  • The person has been identified by an agency or professional as having intellectual disability for the purposes as determined by their localities; or
  • The person has a cognitive delay, as determined by standardized measures such as intelligent quotient or “IQ” testing or other measures that are generally accepted within the professional community in that Accredited Program’s nation as being a reliable measurement of the existence of a cognitive delay; or
  • The person has a closely related developmental disability. A “closely related developmental disability” means having functioning limitation in both general learning (such as IQ) and in adaptive skills (such as recreation, work, independent living, self-direction, or self care).

However, persons whose functioning limitations are based solely on a physical, behavioral, emotional disability or a specific learning disability or sensory disability, are not eligible to participate as Special Olympics athletes but may be eligible to volunteer, such as a Unified Partner.



  • Over 300 million worldwide
  • 7.5 million in the United States


  • 7 times more prevalent than deafness
  • 9 times more prevalent than cerebral palsy
  • 15 times more prevalent than blindness
  • 35 times more prevalent than muscular dystrophy


Intellectual Disabilities May Also Be Referred To As:

  • Developmental Disability
  • Cognitive Disability


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