Special Olympics

In 2003, CSDE entered into a formal collaborative relationship with Special Olympics, Inc. Recognizing the importance of cross-cultural research in mental retardation, Dr. Timothy Shriver, CEO and president of Special Olympics, Inc. and Joanne Gora, past-chancellor of UMass Boston, signed the Memorandum of Agreement to establish a Regional Collaborating Center (RCC) at CSDE. The purpose of the RCC is to conduct rigorous scientific research that is of value to the international community. In recent years, the RCC has conducted studies on the impact of Special Olympics on its constituents, and on attitudes of people internationally toward individuals with intellectual disabilities.

In 2006, the CSDE Regional Collaborating Center became Special Olympics' only Global Collaborating Center. The UMass Boston/Special Olympics Global Collaborating Center is solely responsible for all international research related to attitudes and intellectual disabilities.

In addition to research on attitudes, CSDE carries out program evaluation for Special Olympics on the national and international levels.

Special Olympics Participation, Community Connections and Vocational Outcomes for People with Intellectual Disabilities                   

CSDE has implemented a major research study focused on the employment of adults with intellectual disabilities. This study is exploring the positive impact of participation in Special Olympics (SO) on the employment of adult athletes among a random population sample of families with adult children with intellectual disabilities in the US who have or have not participated in SO at some point in their lives. The inclusion of a comparison sample will provide us the opportunity to more directly determine the pathways to employment for SO athletes. More specifically, it will provide stronger evidence allowing us to draw more distinct conclusions about the impact of SO on the employment of adults with intellectual disabilities. The survey includes questions about the families’ and the adult child with intellectual disabilities participation in the community and where appropriate, in Special Olympics. To obtain information about the employment of adults with intellectual disabilities, detailed questions were designed concerning present and past employment. Additional questions are also included that address the role that Special Olympics plays or has played in the employment of both active and inactive athletes.

Gallup has identified the SO and comparison samples through its Daily Tracking poll in which 1,000 households are contacted per night. As of July 1st, more than 200,000 households have been screened and 860 families with an adult child with ID have been interviewed.  Data collection is expected to be completed in the fall of 2012.

Athlete in the Family Project, Part II

Building on the findings of the Athlete in the Family study completed in 2009, CSDE has developed and implemented an online survey  for parents of Special Olympics athletes to explore in greater depth the value of Special Olympics in the lives of families of athletes. The survey addressed a number of areas including the families’ involvement in sport and recreational activities and their satisfaction with these activities, the families’ social support networks and their satisfaction with this support, as well as constructs of family adjustment/ well-being (e.g., parental stress, happiness, parenting efficacy, family cohesion) that are salient for better understanding the ways in which Special Olympics benefits families.  The study involved a nationally representative sample of approximately 400 parents of male and female athletes (ages ranging 8 to 21) who lived at home and were participating in Special Olympics programming.

The study yielded a rich data set that has allowed for two levels of analysis. First, the data has yielded a deep understanding of the many ways that families are involved in Special Olympics and the variety of benefits that they derive from this involvement. Second, the data is providing a better understanding of how families of children with disabilities are thriving.  The data has provided a positive perspective on families of children with developmental disabilities.  More specifically, parents in this study reported high levels of happiness and resilience, which in turn contributed to low levels of stress and more positive self-perceptions of their parenting competence.   Results of both these analyses were presented at the 2012 International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities World Congress in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and manuscripts are currently being prepared for submission to peer-reviewed journals.

Military Families' Needs and Strengths Assessment

As an expansion of the Athlete in the Family Project described above, the CSDE is further building on its existing body of research about families of people with intellectual disabilities in a study that addresses the unique strengths and needs of military families that include a member with intellectual disabilities. There is limited research and knowledge about the unique strengths and needs of military families that include a member with a disability. Increased understanding about the challenges and support needs of these families will enable educators and other community service providers to customize needed interventions and resources.

The CSDE is in the process of developing a survey to explore how military families of children with intellectual disabilities are functioning and whether/how they are involved with Special Olympics or other community service organizations. A range of questions is included about involvement in sport and recreational activities and satisfaction with social support networks. Brief measures of several constructs of family adjustment/well-being (e.g., parental stress, mental health, happiness, coping style, parenting efficacy, family cohesion) are also  included in order to understand the challenges and resiliency of military families. The CSDE will develop collaborative relationships with military bases around the country to recruit family participants, and plan to begin recruitment efforts in the fall of 2012. This survey has significant potential to add to the knowledge-base about family adjustment in the military context.

Past Projects

R-Word Campaign

Spread the Word to End the Word is a National Awareness Day to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the word “retard(ed)” and encourage people to pledge to stop using the R-word. In order to learn more about youth experiences with the R-word, staff from Special Olympics, the Special Olympics Global Collaborating Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and the Harris Interactive® worked together to design an online survey. In this online survey, youth across the country were asked questions about the r-word, including whether they have ever heard the word, and if so, how they reacted to hearing it. Over a thousand youth between the ages of 8 and 18 responded to the online survey.

Attitude Research

Together with Special Olympics, CSDE has embarked on an international research agenda focusing on public attitudes toward individuals with disabilities. This research has uncovered the fact that around the world, misperceptions about the capabilities of individuals with intellectual disabilities remain the biggest barrier to inclusion.

Multinational Study on Attitudes toward Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities

In 2002-2003, CSDE completed the first part of an ongoing research endeavor documenting attitudes of the public worldwide. The Multinational Study on Attitudes towards Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities involved more than 7,000 adults from Brazil, China, Egypt, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Russia, and the U.S. In 2004, the Multinational Study of Attitudes was expanded to include two new countries, South Africa and India. The findings from these two countries confirm the trend of attitudes worldwide, namely, that people with intellectual disabilities are misperceived and misunderstood, and that the public believes that separate settings for work and school are the best option for people with intellectual disabilities. With attitude change as one of the major goals for CSDE and Special Olympics, Inc., CSDE will continue to expand its attitude research on a global scale over the next decade.

Youth Attitudes toward Peers with Intellectual Disabilities

In 2004-2005, CSDE carried out two simultaneous studies on youth attitudes, one in the United States and one in Japan. The Youth Attitude Studies in the U.S. and Japan provided important information as to the current state of attitudes among youth in these two different countries. Specifically, youth in the U.S. and Japan underestimate the capabilities of peers with intellectual disabilities and are unwilling to interact with them socially. However, the studies also found that youth in both countries are open to the possibility of greater inclusion in schools. Building upon this cross-cultural research base, CSDE will expand this research to China in 2006.

Center for Social Development and Education

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