two children in colorful shirts posing for photo

Enthusiastic Young Athlete Participants at SO Hellas on 30th April 2021

According to a recent article from the CDC, Diagnosed Developmental Disabilities in Children Aged 3 – 17 Years: United States, 2019 – 2021, the prevalence rate of children aged 3 – 17 diagnosed with a developmental disability rose from 7.40% to 8.56% between 2019 – 2021. Broadly, intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are a cluster of diagnoses often present at birth and uniquely affect the trajectory of a child’s physical, intellectual and/or emotional development. Children with IDD may experience difficulties with learning compared to their peers and may need more support in their day-to-day life.

Although the increased prevalence of IDD among children is likely due to increased awareness among parents and educators and better screening tools, there is a critical need to better support children and their families as they navigate what is often a challenging time.

Collective solution-based approach: The next steps to support children with IDD

Additional research can further enhance our understanding of children with IDD, the risk factors involved and the availability of services and interventions that can serve those in need. This can improve long-term outcomes for children with IDD.

This CDC report reveals the urgent and increasing health needs of children with IDD, emphasizing need for substantial investments. Public health leaders and advocates worldwide must take these findings seriously as a wake-up call to prioritize the well-being of vulnerable children and adolescents to ensure that no child is neglected.

Sustained Efforts by Special Olympics to support children with ID through Early Childhood Intervention Program

Young Athletes Research Overview

In 2019, 582,674 children participated in Young Athletes in 200 countries and U.S. States. Since 2020, Special Olympics has engaged over 200,000 children through virtual opportunities.
(2020 Reach Report (2020). Washington, DC: Special Olympics, Inc.)

Special Olympics is a leading voice to support the inclusive health equity needs of children and adults with IDD. The early childhood years are a time of increased vulnerability towards the general health and well-being of children with IDD and can impact their foundation for lifelong development and health. The key to supporting a child and their family is access to effective early childhood development (ECD) programming and early intervention services. Special Olympics offers holistic early childhood programming that provides direct developmental support to children through Young Athletes, offering parents and caregivers access to education and support through programming like Family Health Forums and Healthy Start. These programs help connect children and families to health screenings and community follow-up care through the Healthy Young Athletes pediatric screening.

The impact of Special Olympics’ early childhood programming impacts both children and families. After two months of participation in Young Athletes, children with IDD gained seven months in motor skills, as well as improvement in social skills. Family members also reported significant positive changes in both their own attitudes towards their child and those of community members towards their child with IDD.

Special Olympics collaborates with global researchers, healthcare providers and early childhood networks to address health disparities faced by children with IDD, increase awareness of these conditions among healthcare providers and improve access to evidence-based early childhood intervention programs. By leveraging evidence-based resources and support programs, Special Olympics is providing critical early childhood services for children with IDD and their families and is poised to respond to increasing prevalence rates for this population.


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