Autism and Special Olympics Australia

UPDATE – August 2019


As part of the consultation process surrounding the implementation of our policy, we have been liaising with key groups. These have included athletes, families, volunteers, clubs, industry experts and our governing body, Special Olympics Inc.  

Our suggested policy change is leading the world for inclusion of all people with ASD within the global inclusion movement of Special Olympics. This is a pioneering policy which is prompting further consideration by the broader Special Olympics movement to include all people with ASD.

Special Olympics Inc are currently considering the implications of this policy change. The future of this policy in Australia is dependent upon the input from Special Olympics Inc.  

People with ASD seeking to join Special Olympics Australia are asked to call the national office to discuss membership and training opportunities. Please call 1300 225 762.

Development of our education and coaching training course on ASD continues and we hope to provide this training to Special Olympics volunteers soon. 

- Corene Strauss, Chief Executive Officer


UPDATE – May 2019

Our earlier announcement that all people with ASD are welcome in Special Olympics Australia was very well received. There were also some concerns and questions asked, which we are listening to and working through.

We have approached our governing body, Special Olympics Inc and are awaiting their response on the matters raised.

At this stage, it is business as usual and Clubs can continue to operate as they have. Once we have more info we will share this with the Clubs and State Committees accordingly.

We are also in the early stages of developing and implementing education on ASD for our Volunteers via a special portal. Our thanks go to our friends at Flinders University for the support so far. 

- Corene Strauss, Chief Executive Officer


Recently the Board of Special Olympics Australia took an important decision about inclusion of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Special Olympics Australia. 

People with ASD can now join Special Olympics Australia and benefit from the sporting and physical activity opportunities, along with our health, education and leadership programs. 

There are many cases from recent years of athletes with ASD participating in Special Olympics. However, there were unclear guidelines around eligibility and the determination of athletes with associated intellectual disability. 

Special Olympics International current policy is that an athlete with ASD must have an associated intellectual disability. There is confusion around what this means. 

Our policy sets clear guidelines. 

Anyone with ASD is eligible to become an athlete of Special Olympics Australia. 

Like everyone who joins Special Olympics Australia, some participants with ASD will join to have fun, make friends and enjoy the warmth of a friendly community. Others who join will focus on physical performance and achieving personal bests and medals.


Within Special Olympics Australia, individual sports are divisioned by time and distance. This divisioning has more of a direct relationship with how an athlete trains rather than their associated disability. 

This is why we strive to better an athlete’s ability and not focus on limitations. This divisioning will continue and the integration of athletes with ASD will see no change to the divisioning system.

Team and court sports

In team sports a team is divisioned not an individual. Age, gender and ability apply to all divisioning practises as per Article 1 of the Special Olympics sports rules.

With more athletes eligible to join Special Olympics, we will see better divisioning outcomes. Just as with intellectual disabilities, a low functioning athlete with ASD will not combat a high functioning athlete.

Given some of our current athletes participate very well in mainstream sports there is no reason a person with ASD cannot be divisioned appropriately within Special Olympics.  

Like overcoming barriers to entry for inclusion of people with intellectual disability, education is the key. Education will be the key as to which team an individual goes into. 

Support for people with ASD

There are no organisations that specifically support people with ASD through sport.

People with autism seeking to engage in sport or physical activity can fall through the cracks of our broad sporting society. 

Often, due to the nature of ASD, people on the spectrum find it difficult to function in social club environments. Who better to reach out a helping hand, than our clubs with networks of understanding, caring and experienced volunteers?

Sports criteria

ASD is not classified as an intellectual disability, however as described in DSM 6 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders), ASD is now only characterized by a spectrum and where people sit on it. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder is ASD or autism, not ‘Asperger syndrome’ or ‘types of autism’.

The differences that make us similar

All children need love, attention and care. 

Some children – such as children with ASD or an intellectual disability – require extra love, attention and care. 

The differences required in the care for children are as varied as the differences in children themselves. 

These differences can be varied within ASD (altered social behaviour, repetitive action, difficulty in verbal and non-verbal communication) and intellectual disability (impaired cognitive functioning, reduced intelligent quotient level). 

These differences can lead to experiences people with intellectual disabilities are all too familiar with: misdiagnosis, exclusion, dismissal, flippancy, ridicule and neglect. 

The similarities for people with ASD and people with ID, mean it’s time for change. 

When it comes to people with ASD, we Choose to Include. 

Find out more about ASD here: