Special Smiles at Special Olympics

The movement known worldwide as Special Olympics began simply as the idea of one extraordinary woman with a vision. Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed that individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) were far more capable in sports and physical activities than many experts thought. And so, the world’s largest amateur sports organization began in 1962 as a day camp in the backyard of Eunice and Sargent Shriver, with the first International Games taking place in 1968. Today, the movement thrives in more than 172 countries throughout the world.

The mission of Special Olympics remains the same since its inception. It is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with ID, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.

In 1997, Special Olympics Healthy Athletes began offering free health screenings and education to athletes in a
welcoming, fun environment. We now offer health screenings in eight disciplines:

  • Special Smiles (dentistry)
  • MedFest (history and physical exam)
  • Opening Eyes (vision/eye health)
  • Healthy Hearing (audiology)
  • Health Promotion (prevention and nutrition)
  • Strong Minds (emotional health)
  • FUNfitness (physical therapy)
  • Fit Feet (podiatry)

Special Smiles provides comprehensive oral health care information, offers free dental screenings and instructions on correct brushing and flossing techniques to Special Olympics athletes. This also includes issuing preventative supplies, like toothpaste, toothbrushes, and fluoride varnish.

  • 46% have gingivital signs
  • 37% have untreated tooth decay
  • 14% received an urgent dental referral
  • 15% have mouth pain

Despite a mistaken belief that individuals with ID receive the same or better health care than others, they typically receive sub-standard care or virtually no health care at all. Today, Special Olympics is the world’s largest public health organization for individuals with ID, providing access to free health services for a population with significant, unmet health needs.

Healthy Athletes is not only a program for athletes but, through training and hands-on experience at screenings, it is a program for healthcare students and professionals to increase knowledge of best practices in caring for and communicating with individuals with ID.
Notably, trained health care providers demonstrate improved awareness and self-efficacy in providing care for and communicating with patients with ID after completing training:

  • 72% of trainees strongly agree that they are confident in their ability to provide health services to individuals with ID
  • 74% of trainees strongly agree that they are confident in their ability to match their communication style to the literacy level of different patients
  • Nearly 100% of trainees reported that they plan to provide follow-up care to athletes with referrals

Individuals with ID might receive referrals for follow-up care from Healthy Athletes. Special Olympics Pennsylvania is committed to assisting athletes find the services and resources that they require when they return to their local communities. This is an opportunity for you to become a provider to an underserved, yet very deserving population. Completing this application does not require you to offer free or reduced services or add anything to your normal services. It is simply a way for us to include your contact information within our directory. As a part of completing the provider application, individuals will automatically be provided information on Special Olympics Pennsylvania as well as resource about working with individuals with ID.