Intellectual Disabilities

A person is eligible to become a Special Olympics athlete provided that he/she is eight years of age and older* and has been identified as having an intellectual disability.

What is an Intellectual Disability?

An intellectual disability is defined as ‘a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind, which is characterized by impairment of skills manifested during the developmental period, which contribute to the overall level of intelligence, ie. Cognitive, language, motor and social abilities’ (ICD-10**)


 In other words:

‘A significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, to learn new skills (impaired intelligence) with a reduced ability to cope independently (impaired social functioning) which started before adulthood, with a lasting effect on development’ 
Source: Department of Health (2001) Valuing People.
  • In the UK a person is deemed to have an intellectual disability if they have an IQ lower than 75.
  • IQ tests are acknowledged to be limited. In addition the individual is usually expected to have significant difficulties with self-care, adaptive behaviour and self-organisational skills.

This definition covers adults with autism who also have learning disabilities, but not those with a higher level of autistic spectrum disorder who may be of average, or above average intelligence, such as people with Asperger’s Syndrome.


People who do not have an Intellectual disability

People with conditions such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome or challenging behaviour. Similarly people with a physical or sensory impairment do not qualify as having an intellectual disability unless they ALSO have an intellectual disability.

People with intellectual difficulties can still get involved in Special Olympics GB as Unified Partners or Volunteers.

* Children aged 6 - 7 may be involved in a Special Olympics training programme, but may not enter official competitions. Our Young Athlete programme is available to children under age of 5.
**ICD-10 is the 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), a medical classification list by the World Health Organization (WHO)
ICD-10 – specifically Blocks F06.7-F06.9 (Mental Disorder due to brain damage) F70-F79 (WHO terminology; mental retardation) F80-F89 (disorders of psychological development) and F90-F98 (behavioural and emotional disorders with onset usually occurring in childhood and adolescence) for full guidance click here