The Adapted Physical Education National Standards (APENS) Web site documents the evolution of adapted physical education as a movement that has steadily gained traction in providing opportunities for disabled individuals to access physical education programs and curricula:
The past century has seen a revolution in the way society views people with disabilities and in the way that people with disabilities see themselves. The 21st Century is the beginning of an era where people with disabilities are considered to be individuals who possess a different set of abilities than the majority of the population. As such, they constitute a minority, one with a rich perspective and diverse capabilities which they are ready, willing and able to share with society at large. It has long been known that involvement in physical activity contributes substantially to a person’s sense of well-being and so physical education has long been a component of the American education system. For most of these early programs, physical education for people with disabilities consisted of medically inspired efforts toward remediation of their “condition.” However, during the second half of the last century, society began to view people with disabilities as having a valuable, while possibly modified, set of abilities. This required a different approach to physical education. Programs in higher education identified the need that persons teaching physical education must also have the skills, knowledge and ability to address children with disabilities. The specialty of adapted physical education emerged to address the needs of people with disabilities.
People with disabilities constitute a minority in the truest sense of the word, and in the spirit of the times, the federal government enacted legislation mandating equal opportunity in education for this group. In 1990, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally passed in 1975, was reauthorized, requiring that all people with disabilities, of school age, have access to physical education in a normal school environment. It further required that each student with a disability have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) developed which would include a program of adapted physical education appropriate to the individual (APENS 2008, under “APENS History,” accessed 8/1/2011).
An outcome of this legislation is that each state must define adapted physical education with respect to complying with the legislation. Purposes of these guidelines include defining adapted physical education, recognizing how individuals with disabilities can benefit from appropriate physical education programming, and calling attention to competencies needed to deliver appropriate physical education services to students with disabilities.
An APE program should be far-reaching, comprehensive and meet the diverse needs of students with disabilities:
The adapted physical education program is designed to allow students with a wide range of disabilities and needs to meet the goals and standards of the general physical education program. In meeting the needs of students in all grades, the adapted physical education program may be conducted as the student’s only physical education program, a supplemental program or by adapting to individual needs within a regular class. The adaptations are the result of teacher recommendations, assessments/evaluations, IEPs of eligible students and child study team members. Consultation with the school nurse is also important when dealing with certain medical conditions. Special attention to individual needs, both physical and cognitive, and levels of psychomotor development are important components of the program. The determination of activities in which the student will participate should be based on the student’s ability to safely and successfully participate and the skills or fitness level identified for improvement or reinforcement. When the student is in a general physical education class, an activity will be offered which meets the student’s needs and abilities (Berkeley Heights, NJ, Public Schools, Adapted Physical Education Curriculum and Program Description [Berkeley Heights, NJ: 2005], 1).
In Adapted Physical Education and Therapeutic Recreation in Schools, Etzel-Wise and Mears (2004, 223) describe the important role of the physical educator in, “the recognition, identification, referral, evaluation, and ability of students with special needs. In fact, the physical educator is often the first person to witness the identifiable behaviors that are the basis for the referral process. Quality of movement can predict disorders and disabilities, and the highly stimulating activities and environment of the physical education classroom appear to elicit identifying behaviors.” It is incumbent upon the physical educator to be aware of typical as well as atypical behaviors and motor patterns and performance and to understand the process of accessing and activating resources and services that ensure the success of every student.