Healthy Athletes


Special Olympics Kansas (SOKS) has offered Healthy Athletes since 2003. This program provides free health screenings to registered SOKS athletes at competition venues and at selected stand alone events. Offered in a welcoming, family friendly and fun environment, these screenings educate athletes on healthy life style choices and attempt to identify potential health issues. When health issues are discovered they are shared with guardians, and when asked SOKS will work with caregivers to develop a follow-up plan with a health professional.


Did you know…

People with intellectual disabilities are at a 40% greater risk for preventable secondary health issues than the general population.

On a national level, studies suggested up to 75% of Special Olympics athletes are considered overweight.

In general health care professionals are not trained in, or experienced with, caring for people with intellectual disabilities



Healthy Hearing is the audiology component of the Healthy Athletes program. The Healthy Hearing screenings were introduced to Special Olympics athletes at the 1999 World Summer Games.


The purpose of this program is:

  • to screen the hearing of athletes;
  • notiify athletes and their guardians/care givers if follow-up care is needed;
  • provide custom swim earplugs if needed; and
  • study the prevalence of hearing loss in athletes and individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID).
Athletes are directed through screening stations which:
  • conduct an examination of the ear canals for cerumen (earwax); and
  • conduct an otoacoustic (OAE) hearing screening of both ears.

If athletes pass the OAE station, they exit the screening area. If they do not pass then an examination using tympanometry (middle ear) and pure tone screening is conducted. Upon completion of the screening, the athlete receives a copy of the screening report form, which includes follow-up recommendations.


Health Promotion focuses on healthy living and healthy lifestyle choices.

Its goals include:

  • encouraging and enhancing healthy behaviors;
  • reducing risky behaviors; improving self-efficacy and self-advocacy; and
  • increasing the investment of health care leaders for people with intellectual disabilities.

Screenings focus on the following core health areas:

  • Bone Density Screening and Bone Health;
  • Blood Pressure Monitoring;
  • Body Mass Index (BMI);
  • Education on Nutrition, Hydration, Sun Safety and Tobacco Avoidance & Cessation; and
  • Physical Activity. 


Special Olympics’ Opening Eyes program is changing lives in communities across the globe in partnership with Lions Clubs International by providing free eye assessments to individuals with intellectual disabilities.


The purpose of the free health screenings is to:

  • Evaluate the eye health of the Special Olympics athletes;
  • ensure that athletes compete in a safe environment;
  • provide prescription eye wear, sunglasses, and sports goggles to Special Olympics athletes as needed; and
  • help us to understand the visual problems in people with ID and whether they are able to get the help they need.

Opening Eyes Screenings Include:

  • an athlete health history and vision questionnaire;
  • screening with a lensometer;
  • evaluation of visual acuity;
  • testing of color vision;
  • a complete eye health tests including a cover test (ability of the eyes to work together), stereopsis, autorefraction, and non-contact tonometry;
  • an external and internal evaluation of the eyes and pupils; and
  • prescription eye glasses if needed, prescription eyewear, sunglasses, and sports goggles if appropriate and a referral for follow-up care if needed.


The Special Smiles discipline of Healthy Athletes helps athletes optimize their oral health.  For many individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) dental care is not often a priority and can take a back seat to more pressing dental issues.


The goal of Special Smiles is to:

  • Increase access to dental care for Special Olympics athletes, as well as people with ID;
  • increase awareness of the state of athletes’ oral health for the athletes themselves, as well as their parents or caregivers;
  • provide hygiene education to the athletes to help endure that they are doing an adequate job of brushing and flossing; and
  • provide nutrition education so they will understand how their diet affects their total health.

At a Special Smiles non-intrusive screening, a dental care professional and assistants:

  • assess decay, unstable fillings and sealants, injury, fluorosis, and gingival signs;
  • provide athletes with a written report card;
  • provide oral health education (brushing and flossing techniques);
  • provide personal preventative products such as toothpaste and toothbrushes: and
  • provide athletes (or their care-givers) who require follow-up dental services a listo of dentists/clinics in their area that will treat patients with special needs, should they have difficulty finding a dentist.
The secondary objective of Special Smiles is to increase the number of dental professionals who will serve people with ID in their practices and clinics.


Fit feet helps Special Olympics athletes step lively on the playing field, and in everyday life. Up to 50% of athletes experience one or more preventable or treatable foot conditions that can affect their sports participation, including foot and ankle pain or deformities.


To alleviate these problems volunteer podiatrists:

  • evaluate the feet, ankles, and lower extremity biometrics;
  • notify athletes and care givers/guardians if follow-up care is needed; and
  • study the main issues prevalent in Special Olympis athletes.

During their evaluation athletes receive:

  • information on correct shoes and socks for their events;
  • education on care of feet, including skin and nail care; and
  • a copy of the screening report which inlcudes follow-up recommendations if needed.

If athletes pass the OAE station, they exit the screening area. If they do not pass then an examination using tympanometry (middle ear) and pure tone screening is conducted. Upon completion of the screening, the athlete receives a copy of the screening report form, which includes follow-up recommendations.


FUNfitness is the physical therapy discipline of Special Olympics Healthy Athletes ® that addresses the ongoing health needs of Special Olympics (SO) athletes. FUNfitness provides athletes the opportunity to be screened for flexibility of hamstring, calf, shoulder rotator and hip flexor muscles; functional strength of the abdominal and lower extremity muscles; and balance. During these screenings physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and physical therapist or physical therapist assistant students work with athletes and coaches to improve optimal function in sports training and competition, prevention of or reduced risk for injury and recommending exercises and other helpful strategies.


The purpose of the free health screenings is to:

  • Test and Improve flexibility
  • Test and Improve physical strength
  • Test and Improve balance
  • Educate both the athletes and parents on the importance of staying physically fit and flexible 


Opening FUN Fitness screenings Include:

  • Test flexibility using tape measures and goniometers
  • Test strength using a trunk and hand grip and of the lower body
  • Test balance, on both 1 leg and 2 legs
  • Test endurance in athletes, where athletes will either step in place for two minutes or walk for three minutes.


Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Clinical Directors are trained volunteer professionals who are responsible for working with Special Olympics Kansas Program Director, Chris Burt, and other volunteer health professionals to coordinate the SOKS Health Athletes Program. Special Olympics has Clinical Directors who specialize in eyes, ears, mouth and teeth, nutrition, feet, physical therapy, sports medicine, and general medicine. To find out the qualifications for each of health disciplines please click on the link below.

Qualifications to Become a Clinical Director.

Click here to view more details on the role of the Special Smiles Clinical Director

For more information on Healthy Athletes programs and volunteer requirements contact Chris Burt,, 913.236.9290 Ext. 107


The lack of training of health care providers in caring for people with intellectual disabilities are chief reasons for the health disparities experienced by people with intellectual disabilities.


Healthy Athletes programs are run by trained health care professionals.  For more information on Healthy Athletes programs and volunteer requirements contact Chris Burt,, 913.236.9290 Ext. 107


Healthy Athletes works to improve access to health care for Special Olympics athletes, makes referrals to local health practitioners where appropriate, and trains health care professionals and (medical) students about the needs and care of individuals with intellectual disabilities. We still have a long way to go to serve the needs of all of our athletes. Here are ways that you can help:


  • If you are a health care professional consider sharing your time and talents as a volunteer at a Healthy Athletes event.
  • If you work in the health profession ask your health care facility to consider opening its doors to our athletes as potential health issues are identified at screenings.
  • If you are a parent of an athlete who participates in the program, consider sharing your thoughts on the value of Healthy Athletes or personal stories of how the program has had an impact on your son or daughter?
  • As a coach or local program coordinator you can continue to support the health and wellness programs and encourage your athletes to attend the screenings.
  • Contribute financially to the program.


Healthy Athletes, collects, analyzes and disseminates data on the health status of Special Olympics athletes, and advocates improved health policies and programs for people with intellectual disabilities. SOKS Health Screenings from 2007-2016 indicate:


of adults are obese


of athletes have exposure to second hand smoke


of youth are obese


of athletes are physically active less than 3 days a week


of athletes have untreated tooth decay


failed a hearing test


of athletes have never had an eye exam


of athletes need a new eye prescription