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Inclusive Health

Young Athletes

young athletes sitting in a circle with their feet together forming another circle.

A Head Start

Special Olympics Young Athletes is an early childhood play program for children with and without intellectual disabilities, ages 2 to 7 years old. Young Athletes introduces basic sport skills, like running, kicking and throwing. Young Athletes offers families, teachers, caregivers and people from the community the chance to share the joy of sports with all children.

Download the Young Athletes App

Mobile app screen shots.
Bring Young Athletes home! Get personalized activities based on your child’s development, access health resources, and chat directly with other families in your area. The Young Athletes app is for families and caregivers of young children, with and without ID, ages 0-7 years old. Download on the Google Play or Apple app stores today.

Young Athletes provides children of all abilities the same opportunities to advance in core developmental milestones. Children learn how to play with others and develop important skills for learning. Children also learn to share, take turns and follow directions. These skills help children in family, community and school activities.

Young Athletes is a fun way for children to stay active and establish healthy habits for the future. It is important to teach children healthy habits while they are young. This can set the stage for a life of physical activity, friendships and learning. Young Athletes is easy to do and fun for all. It can be done at home, in schools or in the community using the Young Athletes Activity Guide and basic equipment. Through Young Athletes, all children, their families and people in the community can be a part of an inclusive team.

Young Athletes welcomes children and their families into the world of Special Olympics.

  • Motor skills. Children with intellectual disabilities who took part in Young Athletes developed motor skills more than twice as fast as others who did not take part.
  • Social, emotional and learning skills. Parents and teachers of children who took part in the Young Athletes curriculum said the children learned skills that they will use in pre-primary school.
  • Expectations. Family members say that Young Athletes raised their hopes for their child’s future.
  • Sport readiness. Young Athletes helps children get ready to take part in sports when they are older.
  • Acceptance. Inclusive play helps children without a disability to better understand and accept others.
Lets Play Together
Special Olympics Young Athletes program is an inclusive and welcoming learning environment for children with and without intellectual disabilities from ages 2 to 7 years old. Young Athletes programs provide a focus on teamwork while also teaching children basic sports skills such as running, kicking and throwing.

For more information about Young Athletes, visit our Young Athletes Resources Page.

  • Studies show that after two months of participation in Young Athletes, children with intellectual disabilities experienced a seven month gain in motor skills, representing an improvement at twice the rate of children with intellectual disabilities who have not participated in the program.
  • The benefits of Young Athletes persisted consistently after the program ended; at 5 and 10 month follow up intervals, children who participated maintained a 4 month advantage in development in two of the three key areas of human and motor development.
  • A 2018 study found that, after participating in Young Athletes, family members reported significant positive increases in both their own attitudes towards their child and those of community members towards their child with intellectual disabilities.
“When my baby was born and I found out that he had an intellectual disability, my world fell apart. At Young Athletes, I see him move about, smiling and mixing freely with others. It makes me cry tears of happiness and restores my hope that he can be independent one day.”
Misae, mother of a Young Athlete in Japan

Early Childhood Development Advisory Committee

Special Olympics engages academic and scientific experts to support the successful development and implementation of Young Athletes and holistic early childhood programming for children with intellectual disabilities.

Dimitri Christakis, MD, PhD

Special Olympics
Seattle Children's Research Institute

Timothy Shriver, PhD

Special Olympics

Linda Mayes, MD

Yale School of Medicine

Eva Björck, PhD

Jönköping University

Kristie Bjornson, PT, PhD

Seattle Children's Hospital

Juan Bornman, PhD

University of Pretoria

Mary Beth Bruder, PhD

University of Connecticut

Michael Guralnick, PhD

University of Washington

Fatima Ismail, MD

United Arab Emirates University

Patricia Kuhl, PhD

University of Washington

Benjamin Schindel, MD

Kennedy Krieger Institute

Sandra Willett, PhD, PT, PCS

Colorado Mesa University

Asma Zaidi, PhD

Association of Primary Education and Research (APER)

Young athlete holding two plastic cones attached to one another by a plastic bar.

Young Athletes

Special Olympics Young Athletes is a sport and play program for children with and without intellectual disabilities (ID), ages 2 to 7 years old.