Young Athletes Program

Evaluation of the Young Athletes Program

CSDE continues to build on their preliminary evaluation of the Special Olympics Young Athletes Program (YA) started in 2006. Young Athletes is a program designed to promote motor and social development in young children (ages 2 ½ to 7) with developmental disabilities through physical activity and play.  As part of the Center’s work, a new in-depth curriculum (Favazza, Zeisel, Parker, Leboeuf, 2012) was developed to accompany the activity guide created by Special Olympics for use by teachers and parents of preschool age children. The Young Athletes Curriculum consists of 24 detailed lessons and materials for home implementation and training for teachers who implemented the curriculum.

During the past two years, in collaboration with the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Feinstein School of Education at Rhode Island College, CSDE conducted an intense study of the YA program. A rigorous random assignment to treatment design was used involving 238 preschool children (3-5 years of age) in 52 pre-school classes. The classes selected represented inclusive settings (69%) and self-contained early childhood special education classes (31%.)

CSDE and its partners at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and Rhode Island College also undertook a longitudinal study of the YA program, following children in both states to examine the long-term impact of YA participation.

Global Expansion and Evaluation of the Youth Athletes Program

Given the success of CSDE’s ongoing research into the Young Athletes program, CSDE has been asked to oversee and evaluate the expansion of the Young Athletes (YA) program to developing countries worldwide. SO programs in developing countries, particularly impoverished communities, will be instructed on how to provide 8 weeks of structured Young Athletes programming using the YA Curriculum (Favazza, et al., 2012.)  With the support of CSDE, community leaders will be instructed on how to recruit and engage families and their children with disabilities who otherwise may not have any early intervention opportunities or supports and how to train teachers and parents to deliver the program in schools, home, and orphanages. Read more about the CSDE recent trip to Africa and next steps here.

Because the absence of these kinds of supports in impoverished settings can lead to children having significant pervasive developmental delays, including delays in motor development, there is a great need for motor and social stimulation. Aside from having limited educational programs, they also may not have regular access to other motor supports (i.e., physical therapy, occupational therapy, organized motor play.) This project will build on the previous YA research by documenting and assessing how Young Athletes is adapted and implemented in the developing countries of India, Pakistan, Tanzania, Malawi, Romania, and Venezuela and the impact of the program on children, families and communities.