Because of the wide array of swimming events offered, aquatics is appropriate for a range of ages and ability levels. Aquatics competition events are based on a variety of strokes. Special Olympics also offers events for lower ability level athletes to train and compete in basic aquatics skills. The development of these key skills is necessary prior to advancing to longer competitive events.
Special Olympics athletes also can participate in Special Olympics Unified Sports® aquatics relay events. Unified Sports is a program that combines Special Olympics athletes and athletes without intellectual disabilities (partners) on sports teams for training and competition. In Unified Sports Aquatics, a relay team would consist of two Special Olympics athletes and two partners.
As in all Special Olympics sports, athletes are grouped in competition divisions according to ability level, age and gender.
The following aquatics events provide meaningful competition for athletes with lower ability levels:
- 25 Meter Freestyle and Backstroke
- 15 Meter Walk
- 15 and 25 Meter Floatation Race
- 10 Meter Assisted Swim
- 15 Meter Unassisted Swim
- Aquatics was an event at the first Special Olympics International Games held in Chicago, Illinois, USA in 1968.
- At the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Dublin, Ireland, 573 athletes representing 97 Special Olympics Programs competed in aquatics.
- As of the 2005 Special Olympics Athlete Participation Report, 159,100 Special Olympics athletes compete in aquatics.