Nine international partners implemented a project to encourage social inclusion of children and young people with intellectual disabilities


Nine international partners, one challenge: the implementation of a project that promotes inclusion for children with developmental disabilities through sports, over the course of three years.

Countries with different cultures and customs, United Kingdom, Iceland, Poland, Romania, Montenegro, Slovakia, Lithuania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, have come together to fulfill a common goal, offering important help in improving cognitive, social skills and motor skills of children with disabilities.

With great plans and hopes, to involve more than 5200 children and young people with and without developmental disabilities, we all planned sports events, workshops, health forums for the families of the children in the project, in order to promote inclusion in the communities we each come from.

We set out to contribute to the education of coaches and volunteers in terms of creating a relationship of trust with young people with developmental disabilities and offering help in terms of the integration of children as part of a team, to organize sports events or competitions with and for the children, for the little ones to regain their confidence in their own powers and to develop their sports skills, to restore the parents’ confidence in their children, whether they are with or without intellectual disabilities.

At the end of the project, we can talk with more detachment about the lessons we have learned with the implementation of this project. Even if one of the challenges was the Consortium of the nine partners itself, implementing the same type of activities for its own beneficiaries and recording the results, this was still not the most significant.

Starting March 2020, we have all been faced with a unique and unprecedented situation: the Covid-19 pandemic. In the new conditions imposed by the pandemic, scheduled sports events and group meetings have been postponed for several months in a row. Some of them were moved online, and the results were delayed.

But with all the challenges, the feedback about the project is as good as possible. Here are some of the partners’ opinions at the end of the three-year project:

Anna Karólína Vilhjálmsdóttir, National Director Special Olympics Iceland

What did you like most about this project?            

For us, it was an opportunity to learn about the projects and programs that were running with supports from the Grant.  It was also the opportunity to work together towards an Inclusive Europe.

How was this project different for all the other projects you have implemented?                     

For SO Iceland, we have not worked before with programs from East Europe and this was a very positive experience. We felt that the registration system was more complicated than needed to be.

Did you feel or see that the project had an important impact on your activity? How?                           

The project had an important and positive impact on our clubs and athletes, as well as starting as a new opportunity, raising awareness and focusing on inclusion.

Did you feel that the project had an important impact on your beneficiaries?    

As an expert partner, SO Iceland confirms that the project had a very important impact on the beneficiaries and had registered a high-level result on all activities, when looking at the new opportunities the athletes were given through this project.

Nina Bracanović Milović, Young&Youth Program Coordinator at Special Olympics Montenegro

What did you like most about this project?

Through the project we provided children aged 6-12 years with developmental disabilities and their peers without disabilities opportunities to play and compete in Unified Sports such as football and basketball and to improved their skill and ability level.

Thus, we organized a huge number of Family Health Forums which offered an environment where parents and caregivers could gain direct access to health information, resources, education and inclusive activities, but also empowered families to take an active stance in the lives of their children and to advocate for increasing and improving of these services.

How was this project different for all the other projects you have implemented?

It is a great honor for us to be in Consortium among 6 countries chosen by Special Olympics Europe Eurasia to be part of this project and contribute with our knowledge and experience to the improvement of Developmental Sports Activities, which will help SO coaches in its implementation around the world. Cooperation between so many partners on the project and the knowledge that we are all working towards the achievement of the same goal throughout Europe is a special value that this project carried.

Did you feel/see that the project had an important impact on your activity? How?

Since this program refers to children aged 6 to 12, we have started with the basic skills that give children the opportunity to become aware of themselves and their relationship with the immediate environment. When it comes to activities, we have started with walking and running, balance and jumping, thus helping children learn proper walking, proper running, and how to jump over an obstacle. In addition to these skills, we have practiced receiving and catching the ball, throwing, kicking.

We would like to underscore the preparedness of coaches for working with children with developmental disabilities. The preparedness was achieved by organizing a number of educational seminars for coaches on the subject of Unified Sports. Coaches’ essential role in working with children was to adapt the training to their individual needs.

Also, that communication between coach, athlete – that is, child – and parent was of key importance, both for the children’s success above all, but also for our further success and work. During these three years, following these children, we have witnessed their remarkable progress in various areas – above all, they have improved in terms of their motor skills, coordination, balance and the like. Also, progress was very visible when it comes to cognitive abilities. Their attention span and hand-eye coordination have also improved. Through the developmental sports activities of this inclusive program, children acquire the skills that enable them to engage in specific sports. This helps them develop further as Special Olympics athletes, which will take them to international and world competitions in the future.

We are of the opinion that we already have some future sports champions among us.

Did you feel/see that the project had an important impact on your beneficiaries?

We often hear in conversations with parents that the skills children acquire through participation in Special Olympics training sessions are reflected and carried over into their everyday lives. For instance, children communicate more easily and become better at expressing their needs or emotions, which is exactly what motivates us to keep going and do our best in our work. The training structure is such that the children interact among themselves and get engaged in exercises and activities they do in pairs with others. Consequently, it is inevitable that socialization will be the end result.

Sport is the best way to demonstrate the abilities, the dignity, the pride and joy of people with ID, to enhance their self-confidence, self-reliance, interpersonal, team-member and leaderships skills, to engage people without intellectual disabilities to interact with. It aims to provide children without intellectual disabilities (ID) and the larger community with an opportunity to learn about ID, to understand better and recognize their peers with ID, to demonstrate to the public that people with ID are dignified, valuable and valid members of our communities. Thus, the project has impacted communities to become more inclusive.

This project has connected parents of children with intellectual disabilities. Through this way, the parents network helps them counter the deep sense of isolation and despair that families of children with intellectual disabilities face. Shared experiences and examples of positive parenting break down the stigma and lead to hope, optimism and a sense of empowerment.

„We all know that sports and health represent two side of the same coin. Taking up sports means being healthy. When it comes to Andrej and children in general, sports enhance their team spirit and sense of unity. Both individual and team sports can be of great benefit to him by improving his attention span, which will help him succeed at school.“- Nemanja, Andrej’s father.

„My child has been in this program for a year and a half and I can only say that it is a wonderful project a wonderful program that really yields results. The results were quite tangible even after the first training session, because his focus of attention and coordination improved. We must not neglect the social element and socializing itself -both for them and for us parents. Our entire family has wholeheartedly engaged with the entire process through his involvement, so all of us who are included in it support this project and look forward to every new training.“ – Urosh, Sava’s father.

Veronika Sedláčková, Director of International Affairs Special Olympics Slovakia

What did you like most about this project?

Special Olympics Slovakia is aiming to change thinking of general and professional public to become more inclusive. The project gave us such an exclusive opportunity to be more visible. We can disseminate the inclusion under the umbrella of an inclusive countries like Norway, Lichtenstein, and Island. We got the opportunity to learn from each other.

How was this project different for all the other projects you have implemented?

The extraordinary of this project was reporting. The very detailed reports and summarizing data’s leaded to very specific overview of collecting resources. We believe in SO Slovakia that there are qualified persons validating those all-input data. 

Did you feel/see that the project had an important impact on your activity? How?

The impact we feel in increasing numbers of young athletes, family members and FHF events. With this routine we are going to continue in future as the feedback was very positive from involved person and organizations. This commitment predicting the sustainability of FHFs in Slovakia.

Did you feel/see that the project had an important impact on your beneficiaries?

Yes, very much we see and feel impact as we were able to organize 16 Family Health Forums all over Slovakia. These forums helped so much to recognized athletes, family members, volunteer and coaches needs and we were able, thanks to this project, bring them new opportunities in sports and, health through basketball and football. The team spirit was included on fields and in conference’s rooms.

After three years of implementation, we came to the conclusion that the numbers become less important compared to the impact that the sports activities for children or the events organized for volunteers, coaches and parents had for all participants.

In the communities, both children with and without developmental disabilities enjoyed participating in sports competitions and trainings, felt part of the team, laughed, got angry at every referee’s whistle.

The coaches were motivated and excited to work with mixed teams, they adapted to the new training requirements for all members, worked patiently and encouraged all the children to feel part of the team, to collaborate on the field and opened the appetite of the little ones to practice any sport in their free time.

The parents or relatives of children with intellectual disabilities received with interest all the advice regarding health, nutrition, exercise in the forums, from the specialists. They enjoyed the new perspective of the project, the inclusion of young people with developmental disabilities in the community, through sports activities. Throughout the three years, they enjoyed their sports evolution, cheered them on from the sidelines, encouraged them in sports tests or the matches they supported, and were proud of their results.

Sport has demonstrated, once again, that it is a great way to make friends and grow a team spirit, in addition to being necessary for children’s growth and development.

The European project “Inclusion through sports for children with developmental disabilities”

is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Regional Cooperation.

The project is coordinated and managed by Motivation Romania Foundation in partnership with Special Olympics Romania, SO Iceland, SO Slovakia, SO Lithuania, SO Bosnia and Herzegovina, SO Montenegro, SO Europe Eurasia Foundation and University of Physical Education in Poznan.


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