Exploring perceptions, experiences, and outcomes of a Special Olympics active start program


While the benefits of engagement in physical activity are well recognized, participation among persons with disabilities is lower than among persons without disabilities (Foley et al., 2009). Further, little is known about sport participation among people with intellectual disabilities (ID) (Harada et al., 2013). The Special Olympics (SO) Active Start (AS) program aims to provide young children (ages 2-6) with ID opportunities to improve their physical literacy (PL). The primary purpose of this study was to explore parent and coach perceptions, experiences, and outcomes of an AS program. Given the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a secondary purpose focused on children's PL in the absence of AS programming. Parents of participants enrolled in a winter 2020 AS program and the program coach were recruited to complete virtual, semi-structured interviews. Findings indicate that AS programming was perceived as beneficial towards children's physical (e.g., running) and social (e.g., communication) development. The importance of coaches understanding the varied abilities of children with ID in order to effectively break down and teach sport skills was also highlighted. As COVID-19 disrupted children's attendance in the AS program in March 2020, children's social interactions with peers were reduced. Yet, parents noted improvements in children's physical, social, affective, and cognitive development through children's increased engagement in child-led, unstructured sport and free-play. Findings offer insight into stakeholders' experiences with AS and the PL of young children with ID in and outside of structured programming, serving as a first step towards assessing the effectiveness of AS programs.