Ask Difference

Special Olympics vs. Paralympics — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Published on December 4, 2023
The Special Olympics is for individuals with intellectual disabilities, while the Paralympics is for athletes with physical disabilities or impairments.
Special Olympics vs. Paralympics — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Special Olympics and Paralympics


Key Differences

The Special Olympics and the Paralympics are both significant international sporting events, but they serve different communities and have distinct missions. The Special Olympics focuses primarily on providing training and competitive opportunities to people with intellectual disabilities, aiming to promote inclusion and acceptance. The Paralympics, on the other hand, is centered on elite athletic competition for those with physical disabilities, including amputees, visually impaired individuals, and those with cerebral palsy.
Both the Special Olympics and the Paralympics emphasize the power of sports to transform lives. However, the Special Olympics operates year-round, offering events and training across the world to ensure consistent opportunities for its athletes. Conversely, the Paralympics follows a schedule similar to the Olympics, occurring every four years and often in the same location shortly after the Olympic Games conclude.
It's essential to understand that the Special Olympics does not prioritize winning but instead emphasizes participation and achieving personal bests. This approach contrasts with the Paralympics, where athletes undergo rigorous training and strive to reach the pinnacle of their respective sports, aiming for medals and world records.
Lastly, while both the Special Olympics and Paralympics have a global presence, they operate independently of each other. The Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, while the Paralympics traces its roots back to post-World War II rehabilitation programs for war veterans.

Comparison Chart

Target Athletes

Individuals with intellectual disabilities
Athletes with physical disabilities or impairments


Participation and personal achievement
Elite competition and winning


Year-round events globally
Every four years, aligned with the Olympic schedule


Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968
Originated from post-WWII rehabilitation programs


Promote inclusion and acceptance through sports
Foster elite competition among physically disabled athletes

Compare with Definitions

Special Olympics

A platform where abilities are celebrated, and differences are embraced.
The Special Olympics brings communities together, highlighting the potential of every individual.


Elite sporting events held every four years, often after the Olympics.
Many cities that host the Olympics also prepare to accommodate the Paralympics shortly after.

Special Olympics

Sporting events that prioritize participation and personal achievement.
At the Special Olympics, every athlete is celebrated for their efforts and determination.


An international sports competition for athletes with physical disabilities.
The Paralympics showcases the incredible abilities and determination of its participants.

Special Olympics

An initiative to promote understanding and respect for people with intellectual disabilities.
The impact of the Special Olympics extends beyond the playing field, advocating for a more inclusive society.


A testament to human spirit and resilience, celebrated globally.
The Paralympics, through its inspirational athletes, captivates audiences worldwide.

Special Olympics

Year-round training and competition for athletes with intellectual challenges.
Through the Special Olympics, athletes can engage in various sports all year long.


Competitions for athletes with impairments, including amputations, visual impairments, and more.
The Paralympics features various sports, tailored to accommodate different types of disabilities.

Special Olympics

A global sports organization for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
The Special Olympics aims to foster a spirit of inclusion and unity.


A platform that challenges societal perceptions about physical disabilities.
The Paralympics proves that physical limitations don't define an individual's potential.

Common Curiosities

Who can participate in the Paralympics?

The Paralympics is for athletes with physical disabilities or impairments, including amputees, visually impaired individuals, and more.

What is the main focus of the Special Olympics?

The Special Olympics focuses on providing sporting opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Is winning the primary goal in the Special Olympics?

No, the Special Olympics emphasizes participation, personal achievement, and the celebration of every athlete.

Is the Paralympics solely for athletes with physical disabilities?

Primarily, yes. The Paralympics caters to athletes with physical disabilities or impairments.

How often does the Special Olympics occur?

The Special Olympics operates year-round with events happening globally.

What values does the Special Olympics promote?

The Special Olympics promotes values of inclusion, acceptance, and understanding through sports.

When are the Paralympics held in relation to the Olympics?

The Paralympics are held shortly after the Olympic Games, usually in the same location and every four years.

Are the Paralympics and Special Olympics organized by the same entity?

No, they operate independently of each other.

Who founded the Special Olympics?

The Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968.

What's the origin of the Paralympics?

The Paralympics originated from post-World War II rehabilitation programs for war veterans.

Share Your Discovery

Share via Social Media
Embed This Content
Embed Code
Share Directly via Messenger
Previous Comparison
Emulate vs. Replicate

Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

Popular Comparisons

Trending Comparisons

New Comparisons

Trending Terms