Our Work with Special Olympics
Healthy Athletes is a Special Olympics initiative that offers athletes access to free healthcare screenings and health information at local and international events throughout the year. Critical health information is collected on Healthy Athletes Screening (HAS forms) and sent to Special Olympics International. HAS is the largest database of health data for people with intellectual disability (ID) in existence. There are currently eight areas offering assessments and education for athletes which are administered by trained volunteer health care providers called Clinical Directors. Dr. McMorris is a trained Clinical Director for the Strong Minds discipline which is focused on developing adaptive coping skills through interactive learning activities, and starting conversations about stress, coping, and emotional wellness with athletes.
Individuals with ID receive less health care and a lower quality of health care than the general population, leading to various health issues. Since 2002, Healthy Athletes has discovered undetected health problems, alleviated pain, and provided health services that otherwise would not be available to these individuals. It also allows health care students and professionals to increase their knowledge of best practices in caring for people with ID.
Dr. McMorris and members of the ENHANCE Lab are working with Special Olympics Alberta to bring the Healthy Athletes Program to Alberta and conduct research projects related to the health and wellness of individuals with ID. The ENHANCE Lab is currently involved in several research activities in this area, including conducting a needs assessment to determine what health needs the community sees as being a priority and potential barriers to accessing health services as well as investigating the specific coping strategies and resources employed by Special Olympics athletes in response to stress. Dr. McMorris and the lab has also been involved with designing the Strong Minds HAS form which was officially utilized for the first time to collect health data at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi in March of 2019.
The overall social and emotional health of individuals with ID is extremely under-investigated. Few assessment measures are available to reliably gather the perspective of all individuals with ID with respect to coping and well-being. The Strong Minds initiative will be a major step towards closing this gap in the literature, and will provide athletes, families, and coaches with resources and strategies to promote good coping.