When the Normative Is Formative: Parents' Perceptions of the Impacts of Inclusive Sports Programs

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Sep 1;19(17):10889. doi: 10.3390/ijerph191710889.


This qualitative study examines the perspectives of parents of youth with intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) who participated in Special Olympics Unified Sports®, a program in which high school students with and without IDD compete on the same team. Based on semi-structured interviews with parents (n = 23) as part of a larger evaluation of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools in three states in the United States, thematic analysis shows that parents perceived improvements in their child's social and emotional skills, including demeanor and attitude, an enhanced sense of belonging at school, the emergence of new friendships and social opportunities, and rewarding interactions that flowed from the opportunity to engage in normative activities. Implications for schools and families are discussed in terms of the importance of providing and facilitating meaningful opportunities for inclusive extracurricular activities such as sports for youth with IDD.

Keywords: Special Olympics; Unified Champion Schools; Unified Sports; developmental disability; high school; inclusive sports; intellectual disability; parents; qualitative.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attitude
  • Child
  • Friends
  • Humans
  • Schools
  • Sports*
  • Students

Grants and funding

This research was supported by Special Olympics, Inc. and the U.S. Department of Education (H380W160001).