SDE: Guidelines for Adapted Physical Education: Defining APE Best Practice for Connecticut Schools

{Guidelines for Adapted Physical Education}

Section 3:

Defining APE Best Practice
for Connecticut Schools

What is adapted physical education?

Adapted physical education is an individualized program of instruction created for students with disabilities that enables success in physical education. In the context of APE, "adapt" means "to adjust" or "to fit" modifications to meet the needs of students.

APE is a subdiscipline of physical education and encompasses the same components associated with physical education, providing safe, personally satisfying and successful experiences for students of varying abilities. The curricular purposes of adapted physical education align with those of physical education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) includes in the definition of adapted physical education physical and motor fitness, fundamental motor skills and patterns, skills in aquatics and dance individual and group games and sports, including lifetime sports, designed to meet the unique needs of individuals ages 0-21.

APE should be diversified and include developmental and remedial activities. APE is a direct service, not a related service. APE services should include assessment and instruction by qualified personnel prepared to gather assessment data and provide physical education instruction for children and youth with disabilities and developmental delays.

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Defining APE Best Practice for Connecticut Schools

Federal (IDEA) laws mandate that special education and related services be provided to students with individualized educational programs (IEPs). Special education includes physical education as a direct educational service (34 CFR §300.39(a)(1), Federal Register), while physical therapy, occupational therapy, and therapeutic recreation are related services. The related services are mandated if needed, to ensure that the students with Individual Education Programs (IEP) receive the intended benefits of their special education programs.

Students who exhibit problems with motor performance, physical mobility, and functional independence that interfere with their ability to participate in and benefit from their educational programs should receive APE. Students with unique learning needs are often referred to occupational therapy, physical therapy, and therapeutic recreation for individualized programs. While these service providers share many commonalities in their roles and concerns, they are not interchangeable, and may be provided to children with disabilities at the specific recommendation of the Planning and Placement Team (PPT)

In Connecticut, physical education services are recognized as part of the legal mandate to provide a free and appropriate public education for children and youth who qualify for special education services. The benefits include:

  • Promotion of physical activity as part of an active lifestyle
  • Development of fundamental motor skills necessary for participation in sports with peers
  • Enhancement of self-esteem and self-image
  • Increased physical independence, self-help skills or skills that promote independence and self-sufficiency and/or mobility
  • Decreased health-related complications
  • For early childhood or young childhood, development of functional and developmentally appropriate motor skills that allow the child to play and participate in an educational environment with typically developing peers

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What is inclusion and should all students with disabilities be included in PE?

The IDEA definition of inclusion means to educate to the maximum extent appropriate in public or private institutions, students with disabilities and students who are not disabled together. Inclusion and least restrictive environment are not synonymous terms. The mandate is for education in the least restrictive environment, which is the environment in which they would be educated in if not disabled.

Each general physical educator may require a different level of support or varied intensity of consultation when supporting a student with a disability within the general physical education environment.

Inclusion is the practice of ensuring the participation of students with disabilities in the general education setting. It is important for students with disabilities to participate in general physical education with age-appropriate peers. Full inclusion is the ideal least restrictive environment (LRE) if it meets the needs of the student. In this case, the general physical education classroom would be the least restrictive environment, one alternative of which is inclusion into the general PE class. The key question as to whether a student with a disability should be included is, can his/her individual and unique needs be appropriately achieved with supplementary aides and services (Block, 2000). To remove a student with a disability from the general PE environment, the burden is on the school system to clearly justify and document why this student's needs cannot be achieved in general physical education.

{Couple holding child} Because the IDEA has a strong commitment to educating all students together, it is very difficult to justify why students with disabilities cannot be included successfully in physical education with proper resources and adjustments to the curriculum and instruction. For example, if a student is visually impaired, they can be a partner to a student who has normal vision, therefore during a basketball game they can run together, help in catching a ball and giving directions for passing and shooting. Simple modification to rules, standards, and equipment will help allow students with disabilities to participate meaningfully and successfully. However, the PPT and the APE teacher may determine that APE services, in addition to general physical education, appropriately prepares the student with the individualized support he or she needs to benefit from general physical education.

Each public agency must ensure that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled; and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2007)

In general physical education, each child with a disability must be afforded the opportunity to participate in the general physical education program available to nondisabled peers, unless

  • the child is enrolled full time in a separate facility; or
  • the child needs specially designed physical education, as prescribed in the child's IEP.

Benefits of LRE for Students with Special Needs:

  • Affords a sense of belonging to a the school community
  • Provides a stimulating environment to learn
  • Provides opportunities for the development of friendships
  • Enhances self-respect and affirmations of individuality
  • Frequently results in greater motivation to perform
  • Provides peer role models
  • Provides opportunities to be educated with same-aged peers
  • Mirrors the community at large and the post-school world

Benefits of LRE for All Students:

  • Provides opportunities to experience diversity of society on a small scale in a classroom
  • Develops an appreciation that everyone is unique and has abilities
  • Develops sensitivity toward others' limitations and unique skills
  • Develops respect for others with diverse characteristics  
  • Increases abilities to be peer helpers and to help teach all classmates (Bronson and Raschke, 1999)

LRE in the general physical education setting should be considered and determined on an individual basis so that the child with a disability:

  • may reasonably be expected to achieve IEP goals within a year
  • can participate and demonstrate learning in the general education setting
  • can demonstrate competency in state and district-wide physical fitness or skills assessment or alternative tests to match the child's unique needs (Tripp and Pilectic, 2004; Connecticut State Department of Education, 2009).
While there are many opportunities for social interaction in physical education, the major purpose of physical education is to help students become active, efficient, and healthy movers.
—Martin Block, 2000

Program decisions are made on an individual basis and are determined by the assessment team during the IEP process. All placement decisions should result in a safe and meaningful program for the student. Modifications and adaptations should be based on:

  • Knowledge of the student's strengths and weaknesses
  • Requirements of the course(s) or classes under consideration
  • Parameters of time/space/personnel available in each situation
  • Input from the student's staffing team
  • Consideration of the student's IEP goals and objectives
  • Physician recommendations

Note: The recommended list may or may not be applicable to every student with a specific disability (IDEA LRE provisions §§300.114 through 300.117).

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To comply with LRE, must students with unique learning needs always be included in the regular PE setting?

Inclusion means educating students with disabilities in the regular education setting. The inclusive approach is encouraged and is compatible with LRE provisions of the IDEA. To the greatest extend possible, children with disabilities should be educated with non-disabled peers. However, the continuum of alternative environments may be used if it is determined that full inclusion is not appropriate. For placement along the restrictive least restrictive continuum primary consideration must be given to the environment in which the student's learning needs are best met. Physical education placement in special or separate classes should occur only when the nature or severity of the child's disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily (IDEA, 1997).

Successful inclusion is implemented when the quality of the student's learning experience is not compromised by placement in the regular curriculum setting.

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Curriculum and Instruction

Many students needing APE participate in general physical education. Adapted physical education (APE) programs should align with the general physical education curriculum. The student needing APE is entitled to receive instruction in the psychomotor, cognitive, and affective domains that is  comparable to that received by non-disabled students. The student's instructional program should be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE). An appropriate individualized curriculum is intended to provide experiences that teach and reinforce skills necessary for safe and successful participation in the physical education setting.

Program activities should be selected to promote and enhance the skill development of the student. Teaching methods and instructional strategies must be designed to meet each student's unique learning style. These principles should guide the APE in the design of activities and development of instructional strategies:

  • All students can learn.
  • Students must be educated in the least restrictive environment.
  • Essential, age-appropriate skills should be taught within the student's developmental level.
  • Activities should be designed to meet the goals of both APE and general PE programs.  
  • APE and general PE should be based on Connecticut's content standards for comprehensive physical education (CSDE, 2006, Healthy and Balanced Living Curriculum Framework).

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What types of activities are required in adapted physical education?

Change the word "adapted" to "modified" and you have the idea of Adapted Physical Education. It is GOOD teaching which adapts (modifies) the curriculum, task, equipment, and/or environment so that ALL students can fully and meaningfully participate in physical education.
— Colorado Department
of Education 2007, 10)

PL 105-17, IDEA, defines physical education as the development of: (a) Physical and motor fitness, (b) Fundamental motor skills and patterns, and (c) Skills in aquatics, dance, and individual and group games and sports (including intramurals and lifetime sports). Thus, physical education can include some or all components of the definition. Adapted physical education is referred to within the IDEA as physical education, special physical education, movement education, and motor development. Basically, APE encompasses the same activities as general physical education. However, APE activities are individually prescribed for students with disabilities while the regular PE curriculum is assumed to be appropriate for all typically developing students. For example, all fourth-grade students might take the Connecticut Physical Fitness Assessment and then work on physical fitness components. A child with a disability might need alternative ways to determine and practice functional physical fitness (e.g., demonstrating enough upper body strength to shoot a basketball at an 8-foot-high basket; enough aerobic endurance to play a modified soccer game for 10 minutes without stopping and sitting down) (Adapted and reprinted with permission from For physical education curriculum guidance, refer to Connecticut's Healthy and Balanced Living Curriculum Framework for Physical Education (CSDE, 2006).

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How can regular physical education activities be adapted to include students with disabilities?

"Games are for everyone, but not always in their traditional configurations."
G. Don Morris

Making developmentally appropriate adaptations and modifications to physical education activities such as exercises, games, rhythms and sports in order to provide the opportunity for students to be successful is the purpose of adapted physical education. Adapted physical education can happen in classes ranging from regular physical education (for mainstreamed students, for example) to self-contained classrooms. Individualized PE can be provided in a group setting. Instruction, skills and activities should be geared to each student's unique abilities to the greatest extent possible. Wherever appropriate, students receiving adapted physical education should be included in the regular physical education class.

"You can modify any game to include anyone, accommodating a wide spectrum of abilities, interests, needs, and resources."
Morris and Stiehl, Changing Kids' Games, 1999, 1.

Too often students with disabilities have been made to sit out of physical education, or to assume sedentary roles such as scorekeeper and timekeeper, reinforcing that people with disabilities had to be passive in areas of physical pursuit, thus contributing to a pattern of obesity and shortened lifespans.  Adapted physical education shares the physical education goal of achieving >50%MVPA (more than 50 per cent moderate-to-vigorous physical activity), and sedentary alternative programs should be minimized or avoided. To develop active adapted physical education programs, educators work with parents, students, teachers, administrators, other professionals and the community.

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Universal Design for Learning

Universal design for learning and universal design for instruction are terms that are used interchangeably. A traditional approach to instructional design might be to "teach to the middle," thus planning for what most students need and then modifying activities for those with unique needs and characteristics. In universal design, instruction is designed from the start with all learners in mind, thereby communicating that all students, as well as their unique abilities and characteristics, are valued, and establishing from the very beginning opportunities for all to learn.

"Placement in physical education never should be solely for social development, nor is it appropriate for students with disabilities to only have passive role such as scorekeeper."
– Martin Block, 2000.

Individuals bring a wide range of skills and abilities, needs, and interests to any learning situation. The universal design approach provides a framework for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.

There are implications of this approach in all domains of learning. Cognitively, recognition networks process what is learned through all of the senses – hearing, seeing, feeling, experiencing. Strategic networks are activated for how it is learned, planned, performed and expressed. The multiple ways that students can express what they know, get engaged, stay interested, motivated, challenged and excited contribute to development in the affective domain. The psychomotor domain, the primary realm of learning for physical education, involves planning skills, tasks and applications for physical and perceptual motor learning. When instructional design is approached with the abilities of all learners in mind, opportunities abound for all to learn and succeed.

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Differentiated Instruction

Learners often have a unique set of attributes that must be taken into account when teaching. In order for all students to succeed to the greatest extent that they can, teachers must accommodate many levels of functioning and learning within each group of students they teach. They must adjust and vary their approach based on the skills and unique learning needs each learner presents. Within a generalized teaching approach, many aspects of instruction can be modified to enhance instruction. A skilled educator keeps in mind the learner's abilities and makes changes to instruction on an individual – or differentiated – basis. Instruction should be focused on the abilities of each student, making modifications only as needed.

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Is it acceptable to place a student in general PE and occasionally have the student go to APE to work on particular skills?

Yes. The PPT identifies the appropriate service delivery model based on the evaluation of the student's needs. The student may leave the general PE class to work individually with the APE teacher to learn and refine a skill (see APE Service Delivery in section 2).

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What is community-based programming?

Recreation is typically addressed in the physical education curriculum as lifetime physical activity skills or similar. However, helping students to make connections with physical activity opportunities in the community outside of school is , in part, the responsibility of the physical education teacher. The PE specialist plays a major role in recognizing opportunities in the community and identifying the skills the student needs to participate successfully. It is recommended that the PE specialist participate in the development of the ITP (individualized transition plan).

Once the recreation and leisure activity possibilities in the student's community have been evaluated, and the student' interests and capabilities have been assessed, plans can be developed for the student's participation in and pursuit of physical activities in the wider community outside of the school setting. Of particular focus in the overall assessment are activities that the family can enjoy together. Evaluate the student's skills in order to determine what must be learned  to enable the student to be an active participant. By the time the student is 14, these activities should be addressed in the recreation section of the ITP (see Transition to Elementary and Secondary Grades).

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Evidence-Based Practice

Scientific Research Based Interventions (SRBI)

In the past few years, two important federal laws relevant to the challenges outlined above have impacted school districts across the country, including those in Connecticut. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), contains numerous provisions aimed at ensuring the academic growth and achievement of all students regardless of their race, ethnicity, fluency in English, disability or socioeconomic status. And in 2004, a major federal reauthorization and revision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004) was passed, with accompanying federal regulations published in 2006.

{453} IDEA 2004 and its 2006 regulations allow school districts to use data from a process known as response to intervention (RTI) as part of the identification procedures for students with learning disabilities. RTI is the practice of providing scientific, research-based instruction and intervention matched to students' needs, with important educational decisions based on students' levels of performance and learning rates over time (NASDSE, 2005). In RTI, instructional and social-emotional/behavioral supports for students are not premised on a particular label, program or place, but rather are provided based on students' needs.

Federal regulations associated with IDEA 2004 explicitly encourage schools to implement research-based interventions that facilitate success in the general education setting for a broad range of students. Furthermore, IDEA 2004 permits districts to use up to 15 percent of their special education funds to develop and implement coordinated, early intervening services for students in kindergarten through Grade 12 who need additional academic or behavioral support to succeed in the general education environment, but who have not been identified as requiring special education or related services (20 U.S.C. §1413[f], 34 C.F.R. §300.226).

The Connecticut State Department of Education developed an RTI process it refers to as scientific research-based interventions (SRBI) to emphasize the central role of general education in the intervention process and the importance of educational practices that are scientific and research-based. RTI developed for use in Connecticut schools is referred to as SRBI (Using Scientific Research Based Interventions: Improving Education for All Students – Connecticut's Framework for RTI (2008), Connecticut State Department of Education).

In describing RTI, Winnick (2011, 127) states: "Consistent with an emphasis on individualized, evidence-based instruction, [SRBI] integrates assessment and intervention in such a way that student learning is maximized and behavior problems are minimized from an early age. When appropriately implemented, SRBI has the potential to improve the educational experiences and learning of all students and to identify at a much earlier point those learners who are at risk for failure. This relatively recent approach is in accordance with No Child Left Behind and the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA."

Literature associated with special education provides evidence that RTI has mainly addressed academic performance and social behavior. The principles also apply to physical education in a field of practice in which physical educators have for many years applied systematic, problem-solving approaches to teaching physical education. Typically, the physical educator teaches broad spectrum heterogeneous groups of students, and effective practice requires that differentiated instruction be implemented routinely. While RTI has not been specifically emphasized in physical education the principles and the framework associated with it may be implemented in the development of movement skills that are the foundation of the physical education curriculum.

"Although much about [SRBI] is appealing for the general physical educator as well as for the adapted physical educator, a major advantage is the early use of valid and reliable curriculum-based assessments that inform specific interventions. Equally important, the [SRBI] approach requires ongoing monitoring to ensure that teaching is bringing about improvement in targeted movement skills and that needed interventions are implemented appropriately" (Winnick, 2011, 127).

This continuous progress monitoring adds much-needed accountability for teaching students to achieve identified outcomes consistent with curricular goals and individual short- and long-term student goals. Identification of students at risk can be made much earlier in the students' learning lifespan and learning needs can be effectively addressed in the general physical education classroom setting along with typically developing peers. If there is a need for a more intensive approach, it can be addressed within the SRBI framework.

The RTI process described by Winnick (2011, 128) is consistent with Connecticut's SRBI process. Generally, needs are addressed within a three-tiered intervention approach where more intensive and structured interventions provided are based on well thought-out assessment data.

Through the implementation of an SRBI framework, students are provided with an appropriate level of scientifically based instruction focused on their educational needs (CSDE, 2008). This important component of SRBI is outlined in figure 3. In the context of physical education, the three-tiered intervention approach would work something like this:

A valid and reliable curriculum-based assessment would be administered to all students in the school. Based on initial screening, at-risk students would be identified. Identified students would receive individualized instruction within the general physical education setting (tier 1), with their progress on deficient areas being monitored weekly for four to eight weeks. If progress does not reach the stated goal after this period, the student will enter tier 2. About 80 percent of students would be expected to meet goals in tier 1 instruction.

Within tier 2, students receive intensive small-group instruction, along with instruction provided in tier 1. Small-group instruction would continue for 8 to 16 weeks with progress being monitored weekly. If a student makes progress sufficient to meet stated goals, the student continues with tier 1 services consisting of quality, standards-based physical education instruction based on the curriculum, along with individualized instruction within the general physical education setting and would discontinue tier 2 small-group instruction. If progress is not maintained, tier 2 small group intensive instructions would be reinstated.

If the student's response to tier 2 intervention is not adequate to achieve the state benchmarks, as demonstrated by lack of improvement on weekly assessments, the student would be evaluated comprehensively utilizing a multi-disciplinary approach. The result may lead to a tier 3 intervention, which would be an even more intensive, more individualized program of instruction. About 5 percent of students would be expected to require tier 3 intervention. Tier 3 interventions may include one-to-one direct instruction within the general physical education setting or an additional physical education session outside of the regularly scheduled physical education class, for example. Tier 3 interventions may also include parent and family involvement and adapted physical education services.

In the SRBI system, teachers use not only summative data (measurement of learning outcomes), but continuous formative data (ongoing assessment), to determine whether an intervention or instructional program is effective and whether or not the student is "responding" to the intervention. Additionally, students move through the SRBI tiers fluidly. Specifically, students who are nonresponders in tier 1 are moved to tier 2. If students are successful in tier 2, they move back to tier 1. However, if they are unsuccessful in tier 2, they move into Tier 3.

The CSDE has developed these SRBI guidance documents:

Figure 3. Three-Tier Model for Ensuring Student Success in Physical Education

  {Three tier model}

Connecticut's SRBI framework features these components: identification of the focus of the intervention plan, description of the setting in/to which the intervention system will be applied, curriculum and instruction considerations, the range of appropriate interventions, assessments to be administered, interventionists expected to be involved, the data analysis and decision making processes, and family involvement.

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Role of Paraprofessionals in APE

The Role of Paraprofessionals in Assisting Adapted Physical Education Teachers

Paraprofessionals and instructional assistants can play an important role in assisting students with disabilities in the general physical education setting. These individuals assist in the provision of adapted physical education services under the supervision of an adapted physical education teacher. Support personnel enhance the level of instruction in the physical education setting in numerous ways:

  • Providing extra verbal and visual cues for students with disabilities
  • Modeling desired movement or behavior
  • Providing simplified instructions
  • Encouraging involvement of other students/peer buddies during physical education
  • Assisting students so they can successfully participate in the general physical education setting
  • Monitoring student behavior
  • Assisting students with transitions in the classroom

Typically, the physical education and adapted physical education teacher are responsible for planning and communicating the role and responsibilities of paraprofessionals. Training and ongoing communication are essential so that paraprofessionals fully understand their specific role in assisting the adapted physical education teacher and supporting the student's PE program.

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Special Education and Adapted Physical Education: Team Collaboration

Collaboration is defined as "experts sharing information, bringing their areas of expertise onto common ground where all parties are informed and understand, communicating openly and demonstrating mutual respect for one another" (Murata and Maeda, 2007).  In the context of early childhood education, Murata and Maeda (2007) define collaboration as, "Using occupational therapy strategies by adapted physical educators and classroom teachers for preschoolers with developmental delays." Positive outcomes of collaborative approaches to benefit children include shared vision and ownership that incorporates credence that every member of the team is responsible for the child's learning; knowledge and awareness of the child's needs and current strategies and intervention methods; and opportunities for continued open lines of communication, remaining in contact with one another for monitoring and making suggested changes.

"Collaboration is an approach to creating innovative solutions to barriers to student success. Effective collaborative teams work together to find solutions to the challenges that barriers present. The spirit of collaboration nurtures continuous growth and adaptation to meet the needs of all students."
(Jodie Winship, The Spirit of Collaboration, 2011)

This systemic approach ensures that all teachers are working toward common goals and that all students receive instruction in the same core competencies regardless of which teacher they happen to have. Without this kind of approach, no matter how competent and hardworking individual teachers may be, the lack of coordination and consistency across classrooms or grades may render the educational system ineffective for many students (CSDE, 2008).

"Collaboration in education is the act of all stakeholders purposefully working together to achieve one goal. The goal is for each child to be given the opportunity to benefit from the educational services available through their school placement. The need for collaboration among school personnel has never been as great as it is today. There is an expectation that principals, teachers, support staff, parents and students must work together to ensure a meaningful education for all students. Students of all ability levels are expected to perform at grade level. Teachers must equip themselves with the tools to facilitate growth in each of their students, often within the general education setting" (Winship, 2011).

In collaborative problem solving, all teachers and team members bring strengths to the classrooms and educational settings, but collaborating with other education professionals helps teachers make informed decisions and learn new ways of supporting children. It is challenging, but very important, to make sure that teachers have time to collaborate with other professionals when making decisions about children (State Education Resource Center, 2010).

In their article, Integrating Services, Collaborating, And Developing Connections With Schools, Lawson and Sailor, (2000) assert the need to approach collaboration with vigor and purpose and the vital role for all in the collaborative process: "Meeting the needs of students with disabilities within general physical education classes is difficult for any teacher who works in isolation. In order for students of varying abilities to be provided with the opportunity to experience success, an entire team of professionals must effectively execute their role in setting the stage for each student's success. Collaboration among regular and adapted physical educators, physical therapists, occupational therapists, teachers of special education and of all subjects, school board members, program and curriculum developers, college instructors and institutions of higher learning, administrators, and parents is vital for success" (Lawson and Sailor, 2000, 12).

Figure 4. Collaboration Wheel

{Collaboration wheel}

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APE Process

How is need for APE determined?

Eligibility for Adapted Physical Education

AAPAR's Adapted Physical Activity Council (APAC) and National Consortium for Physical Education and Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities (NCPERID) have published a joint Position Statement on Eligibility Criteria for Adapted Physical Education Services that aims to help teachers, school administrators, local education agencies (LEA) and parents determine when it is appropriate to deliver special education services to a child in physical education and to appreciate the continuum of placements and services to consider when providing this instruction (AAPAR/NASPE, 2010).

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Who should receive adapted physical education services?

The criteria for eligibility for APE services should focus on whether the student can participate in and benefit from general physical education in a successful and meaningful way. Traditional assessment practices have relied heavily on the use of standardized tools that compare a student to a normative sample of same-aged peers. Frequently, eligibility and program development decisions have been made solely on the basis of a quantified score. Arguably, each APE assessment should look somewhat different, with eligibility determinations being based upon a variety of factors—what Rainforth and York-Barr (1997, 135) and Block (2000) call the ecology of the student -- as opposed to the results of a single formal assessment tool. (Adapted with permission: Colorado Department of Education, Colorado Guidelines for Adapted Physical Education, 2007, 17)

There is a two-part process to determine if a child qualifies for APE services. First, a child has to be identified as a "student with a disability" according to definitions presented in the IDEA (1997). Once a student is determined to have a disability, then specific motor and fitness testing can take place to determine if the student qualifies for APE services. A school district should create standards for qualifying APE services (e.g., a 2 year delay or more in motor or physical fitness).

The IDEA requires that all assessments be implemented by a qualified person (in your district this may be the general physical educator), also more than one test is administered (e.g., standardized fitness test, behavioral checklist, teacher-made sport skills test). For example, the Brockport (Winnick and Short, 1999) physical fitness test for physical and mental disabilities could be used as a standardized test. Block (2000) has a behavior checklist that examines how well a student follows directions, interacts with peers, and how well the student performs in a general physical education setting. A teacher-made cross country skiing test (components of standing, turns, and downhill run) or basketball test (components and accuracy of the dribble, chest pass, jump shot, and lay-up) could be used to determine sport skill ability. Assessment results are then presented and discussed at the PPT meeting to make a final determination if the student qualifies for APE services (reprinted and adapted with permission from

See appendix B for a listing of assessment information.

"Access to general physical education curriculum and instruction is the objective in determining eligibility."
—Martin Block, 2000

If a student with a disability needs specially designed APE, that program must be addressed in all applicable areas of the individual education program. Students who can participate fully in general physical education without specialized modifications or with only minor modifications may not need IEP goals and objectives. However, the IDEA mandates physical education services for all students with disabilities from 3 to 21 years of age. Winnick (2000) suggests elementary age students with disabilities should receive 30 minutes daily and secondary students 45 minutes for three days per week. Regardless whether a state requires physical education or not, students with disabilities are required to have some form of physical education. For example, if general physical education is not required for non-disabled high school students, students with disabilities should still receive physical education services. The responsibility of the school district is to provide all services that the IEP committee determines are appropriate for the student (

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Who decides what educational services a student with a disability receives?

Each student's unique needs are discussed during a PPT meeting. Participants in this meeting include a representative of the school's administration, a qualified interpreter of the assessment(s), regular classroom teacher, special education teacher, physical education teacher, one or both of the student's parents, the student when appropriate, and other individuals related to the student's education (e.g., speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, music therapist, etc.). These individuals jointly will decide what educational services are appropriate that includes physical education services a student might receive. The IEP process is required to address the student's physical needs. Further, all students with disabilities are required to have physical education whether general or adapted.

The following questions are considered by the planning and placement team to determine eligibility for APE services:

  • Does the student exhibit substantial delays in the development of fundamental movement skills, fundamental motor skills and patterns and/or skills in aquatics, dance, individual, dual and team sorts, and lifetime physical activities?
  • Is there measurable lack of success in the general PE curriculum or environment despite modification provided by the general physical education teacher or general education teacher at the preschool or elementary level?
  • Is the student's physical and motor fitness substantially below that of same age peers?
  • Is the student able to physically navigate safely in a school environment and access, participate in and benefit from the school environment?
  • Does the manifestation of disability interfere with the student's ability to participate in his/her physical education program or at play?
  • Is the student able to receive measurable and meaningful benefit from general physical education without modification of the physical education program by an APE teacher?
  • Does the student require special support (e.g. a paraprofessional, modification of rules, tasks, equipment) in order to participate safely and effectively in general physical education?
  • Does the student require an individualized program in physical education in order to achieve physical education standards
  • Is remission of skills or other negative change likely without adapted physical education intervention?

 Consideration should additionally be given to the following factors:

  • Fitness as it relates to the student's ability to be successful in general physical education.
  • Cognitive skills as they relate to the student's ability to be successful in general physical education.  (Low cognition, however, is not an appropriate basis for APE eligibility.  Refer to assessment and eligibility.)
  • Ability to participate and play with peers in recreational activities and recess.
  • Sufficient health status, physical endurance and stamina as needed to safely engage in activity (reprinted and adapted with permission from

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Related Services

It is not uncommon for physical education to be lumped together with other seemingly similar services since there appears to be more resemblance to physical therapy, recreation, and even occupational therapy in some contexts than to classroom instruction. True physical education uses movement as a medium to teach, but that is where the resemblance to these related services ends. Related services are defined in the law as services that may be provided only if required to help a child with a disability benefit from special education. Thus, physical therapy, for example, is a related service that may be recommended to help a child benefit from physical education. This benefit can be accomplished by increasing range of motion, improving gait, or teaching a child to transfer to the pool deck so he or she can learn to swim and eventually be included in regular education programs.

Over the years, local education agencies (LEAs) have sometimes configured their physical education services in ways that make it confusing to interpret if compliance has been achieved. While some children can be appropriately served in a general physical education class, many students need adapted physical education because they cannot safely or successfully participate in the unrestricted activities of the general or specially designed physical education program. These needs may be the result of developmental delays.

General descriptions of the disciplines of adapted physical education, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and therapeutic recreation are as follows:

Adapted Physical Education promotes physical and motor fitness, fundamental motor patterns and skills, and life time sports, skills, and games. Adapted physical education is a direct service.

Physical Therapy enhances general gross motor development, posture, balance, and functional mobility. Physical therapy is a related service.

Occupational Therapy promotes participation in school activities by removing barriers and developing skills including fine motor, sensory processing, social-emotional and perceptual skills. The outcome of therapy is increased independence in the school environment. Occupational therapy is a related service.

Therapeutic Recreation increases access to and participation in community based recreational programs. Therapeutic recreation is a related service.

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Can therapy (e.g., physical therapy), therapeutic recreation or athletics be substituted for physical education?

The IDEA clearly identifies physical therapy, occupational therapy, music therapy, dance therapy, and therapeutic recreation as related services which cannot substitute for direct services (i.e., physical education). This means related services and providers cannot replace a physical educator or a physical education program. The objective of related services is to provide additional support to direct services.

Athletics is an extracurricular activity. Extracurricular activities cannot be substituted for physical education for a student with a disability. However, students with disabilities have the right to participate in athletics. Public Law 93-112 Section 504 specifically mentions physical education, intramurals, and interscholastic athletics, noting that where these services are provided for individuals without disabilities, people with disabilities must also be afforded the opportunity to participate, without discrimination on the basis of their disability. In other words, students with disabilities have a right to participate on the regular athletic teams provide by schools, or the school must provide appropriate special athletic opportunities such as Special Olympics or Wheelchair Sports, and funding should be made available (Stein, 1978). Therefore, if a student is interested in competing in winter sports such as alpine skiing, cross country skiing, figure skating, speed skating, snowboarding, or snowshoeing, then the school should provide means to achieve this endeavor. Note that, although students might attend school in a district that provides particular sport competitions, they can participate in other districts as well as regional games. Special Olympics and other competitive organizations will let athletes participate in regional games, if the local district does not provide that opportunity (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, Sec. 300.34 Related services).

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Referral process

How do you refer a student for adapted physical education services?

Before a child is referred to a planning and placement team, alternative procedures and programs in general education must be explored and, where appropriate, put into place in the classroom and used (CSDE 2007). A parent, teacher, or other person may refer for study at a child study conference any child who is having difficulty in physical education. The name of the group conducting child study conferences varies from district to district; common names include "pupil study team," "planning and placement team" and IEP committee. A concerned parent, teacher or other staff may make this contact through the student's teacher or other school personnel. Referral policies differ from district to district, and the local school district should be consulted for specific information.

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How would the general physical education teacher and/or parents of students with disabilities recommend APE?

If the general physical educator or parent feels the student with a disability would benefit from specially designed physical education instruction, then they can contact the school principal or the director of special education and request a referral for APE. After parental consent is given the student would then be formally assessed in motor, fitness, and behavioral skills. Once the assessment is completed, the PPT meeting or a conference will be arranged during which the assessment results are discussed. The PPT meeting determines the level of support needed for appropriate PE.  If the student's parents are not satisfied with the school system response to their concerns about their child, then there are due process procedures that can be pursued.

Figure 5. Identification and Program Planning Process

{Flow chart}

CST = Child Study Team; PPT = Planning and Placement Team.
*Note:  Not all school districts have a Child Study Team for pre-referral to the PPT. Ultimately, eligibility for special education, including adapted physical education, is determined by the PPT.

Reprinted and adapted with permission from Glastonbury Public Schools, Glastonbury, Connecticut.

Referral Process - continued

PPT 101: Understanding the Basics of the Planning and Placement Team Meeting  (Connecticut State Department of Education and Department of Developmental Services) states that:

  • Written request for an evaluation of a student who is suspected of having a disability and who may require special education or related services. For example, a written referral (ED621) should be submitted requesting that a student be evaluated to determine if he or she is a child with a disability that requires special education.
  • Referral can be made by parent or guardian, school personnel, professional or agency personnel with parent permission, or the student (if 18 years or older).
  • The district will convene a Planning and Placement Team (PPT).
  • The PPT convenes to discuss the referral and review available information.
  • If additional evaluation data is needed, the student's PPT will design an individualized evaluation to assess the student's educational, including physical education, needs.

The PPT includes:

  • Parents and when appropriate, the student;
  • At least one regular educator if the child is or may be placed in regular education;
  • At least one special educator;
  • District representative who is knowledgeable of general education curriculum and can allocate resources;
  • Someone who can interpret evaluations; and
  • Others who have knowledge or expertise related to the child.

Evaluation of the student:

  • May include information collected by the school district through informal and formal observations, a review of previous school work or Birth to Three System records, standardized tests, and information provided by teachers, service providers and parents.
  • The PPT will design an individualized evaluation based on areas of concern that prompted the referral.
  • The parents are provided written notice of consent to evaluate.
  • The PPT completes the ED622 which will include a description of the tests and procedures the district will use to make a determination for special education eligibility.
  • The evaluation must be completed, and for children who are determined eligible for special education, an IEP developed within 45 school days from the date of the written referral (not including time needed to obtain consent for evaluation).

Results of the evaluation:

  • A second PPT will be scheduled to review the results of the evaluation.
  • The information will be reviewed to determine:
  • Does the child have a disability?
  • Does the disability have an adverse effect on the child's education?
  • Does the child require special education and related services?

Parents have the right to request a complete set of their child's educational records including evaluation reports.

  • Disability Categories for Special Education:
  • Autism
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Deafness
  • Developmental delay (3-5 year olds)
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disability (mental retardation)
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Other health impairment
  • Specific learning disability
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairment

Figure 6. Referral Timeline


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Eligibility for Adapted Physical Education

Upon completion of the administration of assessments and other evaluation measures, if a determination is made that a child has a disability and needs special education and related services, including adapted physical education, an IEP must be developed for the child in accordance with IDEA Sec. 300.320 through 300.324.

Adapted physical education services should be addressed as appropriate if the results of assessments indicate that performance in general physical education is adversely affected as a result of the student's disability.

A student with a disability must have access to and the ability to equally participate and benefit from programs designed to develop physical and motor fitness, fundamental motor skills and patterns, and skill in aquatics, dance, and individual and group games and sports.

Adapted physical education is defined by federal law (i.e., the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) as a special education instructional program and must be provided to all students with disabilities if needed to meet their individual physical education needs. Students are considered eligible for special education, including physical education, if they are identified as having one of the 14 disabilities named in the law, and because of that disability are determined to require special education. Each student must be provided the opportunity to participate in general physical education with non-disabled peers, unless the student is enrolled full-time in a separate facility or demonstrates the need for specially designed physical education. (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, Sec. 300.306 Determination of eligibility.)

It is NASPE and AAPAR's position, however, that any student who has unique needs for instruction in physical education, regardless of disability, is entitled to receive appropriate accommodations through adapted physical education (NASPE, 2010).

NASPE and AAPAR recommend that students be considered eligible for adapted physical education services if their comprehensive score is 1.5 standard deviations below the mean on a norm-referenced test, or at least two years below age level on criterion-referenced tests or other tests of physical and motor fitness. Those tests include, but are not limited to, fundamental motor skills and patterns, and skills in aquatics, dance, individual games, group games and/or sports. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 identifies physical education as a component of special education that provides for an equitable education experience for students ages 3-21 that is a free, appropriate, public education in the least restrictive environment.

Procedures for determining eligibility and education-related need for special services are outlined in federal regulations (U.S. Department of Education, 2005L SS 300 / D / 300.306 / c) (NASPE 2010).

In a traditional model, standardized test results dictate whether a student receives APE services. The traditional method, however, is often flawed due to a disconnection between standardized test results and the specific general physical education program offered within a student's school. Eligibility determinations are complex. The entire ecology of the student must be taken into consideration. Standardized scores and standard deviations from the mean on a formal assessment are not singular, defining criteria upon which to determine eligibility.

If a student demonstrates deficits in the motor, behavioral or cognitive areas, but is participating successfully in general PE, then the student would not require the specialized services of adapted physical education. Likewise, students with disabilities of a temporary nature, such as broken bones or short-term illnesses, are not eligible for APE solely on the basis of a temporary disability. Students who a physician has determined may not safely participate in general PE may not participate in APE.

Figure 7. Guidelines for Determining Eligibility under Special Education for APE and Developing and Implementing Goals for IEP in APE 

Example 1: Guidelines for Determining Eligibility Under Special Education for APE

  • Student is recommended through the Student Intervention Team for evaluation OR has been identified through testing performed by OT/PT
  • Student displays social behaviors that interfere with the learning of self or others for 1/3 or more of the class period
  • Student is not performing at their ability level in a group setting
  • Student is below average in two or more components of the CT physical fitness test
  • The Test of Gross Motor Development (TGMB) to be used as a piece of assessment
  • The student is below 1.5 SD or more in two or more components of norm referenced test
  • The P.E. staff needs to have the names of students who have been identified or recommended for APE in JUNE for the following year
  • The P.E. staff needs a copy of TGMD
  • The P.E staff needs access to electronic data bank to be able to write goals and objectives.

Example 2:Developing and Implementing Goals for IEP in APE

Developing goals

  • Read confidential file
  • Identify student's condition : Physical – Orthopedic, Cognitive – Intellectual, Social – Emotional, Sensory, Multiple Disabilities
  • Evaluate student to determine present level of performance – Motor Skills Test
  • Collaborate with Team to determine if student meets criteria for services
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Focus goals on grade specific activities per curriculum
  • Write goals using this information

Implementing goals

  • Identify student's team members (OT, PT, SPED)
  • Share information with team
  • Schedule student for services to provide a balanced program if possible
  • Monitor weekly progress
  • Update IEP report as frequently as designated in the IEP
  • Hand in report to SPED team manager in a timely matter
  • Document progress

Developed by Tina Yenkner and Julie Booth for Glastonbury Public Schools. Adapted and reprinted by permission.

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Assessment in Adapted Physical Education

"Assessment is the first step in developing the Individual Education Program (IEP) for an individual with disabilities. It focuses on identifying activity needs of the individual, and is the interpretation of measurements obtained through testing. Assessment is also used to make decisions about placement and program planning. It forms the foundation for the instruction given to an individual with disabilities so he/she can safely and successfully participate in physical education class" (reprinted and adapted with permission from PECentral, 2012: Adapted Physical Education Assessment Instruments).

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Conducting Evaluations

The IDEA requires that, in conducting evaluations, the local education agency (LEA):
(A) use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information, including information provided by the parent that may assist in determining
(i) whether the child is a child with a disability; and
(ii) the content of the child's individualized education program, including infor­mation related to enabling the child to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum
(B) not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability or for determining an appropriate educational program for the child; and
(C) use technically sound instruments that may assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors.

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Additional Assessment Requirements

Each local educational agency must ensure that
(A) assessments and other evaluation materials used to assess a child under this section
(i) are selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis,
(ii) are provided and administered in the language and form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, develop­mentally, and functionally,
(iii) are used for the purposes for which the assessments or measures are valid and reliable,
(iv) are administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel, and
(v) are administered in accordance with any instructions provided by the producer of such assessments;
(B) the child is assessed in all areas of suspected disability;
(C) assessment tools and strategies used provide relevant information that directly assists persons in determining the education needs of the child.

(U.S. Department of Education, 2006, Topical Brief: Changes in Initial Evaluation and Reevaluation)

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What is an assessment?

Assessment is the process of gathering information about a student to make an informed decision. As part of special education, assessment serves as the foundation for determining a pupil's strengths, needs, and eligibility for special education support services through the use of formal and informal procedures. The interpretation of assessment information guides decision making related to eligibility, student-based educational needs, possible goals and objectives, program services, and placement options.

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Who performs an APE assessment?

Adapted PE assessment must be made by a Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) certified PE teacher who is able to address adapted physical education, trained in gathering data through observation of performance, diagnostic tests, curriculum-based instruction, communication with parents and staff, and use of performance and behavioral checklists. The educator should also  be knowledgeable in administering and scoring assessments, interpreting scores, and recommending appropriate programming. Knowledge of physical education standards and benchmarks, as well as lifestyle analysis for transition planning, is important.

Collaboration between the APE teachers and other specialists can be beneficial in identifying appropriate assessment instruments and protocols. Special educators, physical and occupational therapists and school psychologists

Discipline Referenced Assessment Instruments

The IDEA requires that, in conducting evaluations, the local education agency (LEA):
(A) use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information, including information provided by the parent that may assist in determining
(i) whether the child is a child with a disability; and
(ii) the content of the child's individualized education program, including informa­tion related to enabling the child to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum
(B) not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability or for determining an appropriate educational program for the child; and
(C) use technically sound instruments that may assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors. (USC, Title 20 section 1414 [a] and [b]) (U.S. Department of Education, 2004. Sec. 300.304 Evaluation procedures).

Selecting appropriate assessment tools is essential in developing accurate student information to develop program and determine placement. Each district must ensure that the tests and evaluation instruments are valid for the specific purpose used.

There are numerous standardized norm- or criterion-referenced tests available. These assessments are to be used in conjunction with observation-based assessment of the student within the environment in which he or she must perform. The specific formal assessment tool chosen should be guided by steps 1, 2, and 3 of an ecological approach to assessment, outlined earlier in this chapter.

Assessments must measure ability, and should describe a child's strengths and needs and not solely the child's disability. It is important to understand what an assessment measures as well as the instrument's assets and limitations.. A test which is intended to measure motor skill performance or physical fitness must not discriminate on the basis of the student's disability. The student with a learning disability who has difficulty following verbal directions may not perform at his/her ability level if only verbal directions are given. The student may need visual cues and demonstration in addition to the verbal instructions. A formal, standardized test that does not allow for demonstration of a student's strengths and needs may be an inappropriate test for the student. The IDEA also specifies that assessment cannot be limited to use of a single instrument. (Reprinted and adapted with permission from Colorado Department of Education, Colorado Guidelines for Adapted Physical Education, 2007, 15. See appendix B for a list of assessments)

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Assessment Instruments for Adapted Physical Education

What are some assessment instruments that are specifically for use in adapted physical education?

In Determining Eligibility for Adapted Physical Education: Selection and Application of Assessment Tools, Foster (2010) describes the process of determining whether a student is eligible for an APE program in the school setting. The report includes gathering objective data related to the student's abilities and needs, and discusses the determination of unique need as a critical component of this process as well as of the development of an IEP which includes goals and objectives related to physical education. The report provides useful information for those who participate in the information gathering process in the selection of assessment tools which provide objective, measurable, reliable and valid data related to a student's diagnosis or condition. Lists of assessment tools used with children with special needs can be found at the PE Central Web site, and also includes a discussion of types of tests, with specific examples of each type, which can be used for assessments related to adapted physical education. Information provided for each assessment tool includes a basic description of the tool and its properties as well as students/persons with whom it could be used. Additional information related to each tool can be accessed through the cited references. The report includes a table of Applications of Assessment Tools Related to Determination of Unique Need for Adapted Physical Education Programs.

Also included on the Adapted Physical Education Web site is Popular Scales Used for Assessing Kids with Special Needs (Hogberg 2012).

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How can a physical education teacher or adapted physical education teacher get training to administer assessments?

Request training from the district director of special education. Once the district determines the appropriate test, other districts that use the particular test can be contacted, or an inquiry can be made of university programs that prepare students in the subdiscipline of APE. They generally have on staff or can recommend qualified individuals who can train school personnel to use a specific assessment instrument for evaluation of students with disabilities. It is recommended that a school provide in-service training on a range of tests that evaluate students with various disabilities. The district should have a selection of tests that it uses most frequently across the district and should train and update district personnel in their administration and analysis of results.

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Assessment Data for Placement Decisions

Best practice dictates that information from assessment data is used to determine whether a student needs support in physical education, and how much support the student needs to be successful in general physical education. Such support may be in the form of accommodations to the curriculum and/or instruction. Forms of support include, but are not limited to use of a peer buddy, use of adapted equipment, consultation from an APE, or direct service from an APE.

The following should be considered in determining the most appropriate, least restrictive, physical education placement:

  • Psychomotor, cognitive, and affective factors that would affect the student's ability to participate  successfully and safely in general physical education
  • Capability of the student to benefit from an APE program, including such considerations as ability  to understand cause and effect; demonstration of emotional behavior to benefit from one-on-one instruction, capability for voluntary movement, ability to interact with another person
  • Results of a comprehensive, ecologically based physical/motor assessment conducted by a CSDE certified PE teacher, qualified in APE.

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Assessment and Ecologically Relevant Assessments

What is an Ecological Approach to Assessment?

Traditional assessment practices incorporate the use of a standardized assessment tool to compare a student objectively with a normative sample of same-aged peers. While the information obtained from standardized assessment can be of value, such assessment does not take into consideration the multiple factors that influence a student's performance within an environment.

An ecological approach to assessment in adapted physical education emphasizes the real-life skills necessary for a student to participate meaningfully in general physical education and community-based recreation (adapted and reprinted with permission from Colorado Department of Education, Colorado Guidelines for Adapted Physical Education, 2007).

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What is an ecological inventory?

The use of assessment data to determine placement highlights the importance of the ecological approach to assessment. The APE assessment must evaluate the student within the general PE environment in order to determine the appropriate placement for meaningful student participation.  (Adapted with permission: Colorado Department of Education, Colorado Guidelines for Adapted Physical Education, 2007, page 16)

An ecological inventory is an evaluation of the entire community surrounding and affecting a student with a disability. The inventory should focus on the abilities and interests of the student in her or his present environment as well as anticipated future environment. The purpose of the ecological inventory is to prepare for the activities the student will most likely enjoy and participate in successfully. All recreational and leisure possibilities, associated costs and equipment needs should be considered as well as anticipated transportation requirements and availability, and cognitive, affective and psychomotor skills needed for participation.

Rainforth and York-Barr (1997, 137) propose that an educational assessment of greatest validity and rigor consists of four main steps:

  1. Developing an Assessment Plan
  2. Assessing Performance in Natural Environments
  3. Analyzing Performance Discrepancies and Generating Hypotheses (as to the origin of performance discrepancies – collaborative team exercise)
  4. Conducting Diagnostic/Discipline-Referenced Assessment
  5. A resource guide of adapted physical education assessment tools, including gross motor assessments and health-related physical fitness assessments, is included as appendix B in the appendix section of this guide.

Step 1. Developing an Assessment Plan
Assessment planning is guided by the reason for a referral and is coordinated by the team members contributing to the overall assessment. During the planning stage, the team decides on what priority environments and activities to focus the assessment. As related to adapted physical education, an ecologically relevant assessment will focus upon physical education environments and physical education performance activities.

Areas that may be addressed in the assessment plan to determine the need for adapted physical education and the appropriate level of service include, but are not limited to:

  • Fine and gross motor skills
  • Motor development
  • Motor skill performance in natural contexts as related to PE standards and objectives
  • General physical education functioning, including safety
  • Mobility
  • Sport and recreation skills, including the application of motor skills to various
  • environments
  • Other skills related to physical education curriculum and standards
  • Effects of cognitive delays
  • Effects of emotional disturbances  

Step 2. Assessing Performance in Natural Environments
An emphasis on natural environments is the cornerstone of an ecological assessment. An analysis of the person-environment fit serves as the foundation upon which decisions can be made for modifying the environment, equipment, curriculum, or manner of instruction, or for developing instructional strategies towards remediating deficits. In other words, only through observing a student within the natural environment can one determine which accommodations will benefit the student's successful participation within the least restrictive environment. The student's ability to participate in both school activities and school environments provides the context for observing and analyzing areas of performance strengths and weaknesses.

In step 2, members of the assessment team observe the student engaging in priority activities in the members' discipline-related environments. In APE, this may include:

  • General Physical Education
  • Recess
  • School-related sports activities
  • Recreation/leisure activities
  • Field trips

Step 3. Analyzing Performance Discrepancies and Generating Hypotheses
"After performance information is recorded and the assessment is completed for a specific environment, discrepancies are identified between the way in which designated activities are performed by the student and the way in which they are performed by a person without disabilities. For each discrepancy, team members begin to hypothesize about factors that may contribute to the student's performance difficulties." (Rainforth and York-Barr, 1997, 135)

This process of analyzing functional performance difficulties and generating hypotheses can serve as a basis from which instructional interventions and programming decisions are made. Each team member conducting a portion of the educational assessment, such as educator, psychologist, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and adapted physical educator, may have a slightly different hypothesis regarding a specific performance deficit. A psychologist may be able to offer input related to behavior, regarding a specific performance-based discrepancy. The occupational therapist may have a sensory-related hypothesis to account for behavior during physical education. The adapted physical educator may account for a PE performance discrepancy from a motor perspective. In this collaborative manner, the expertise of multiple disciplines is available toward problem solving and generating appropriate strategies toward supporting student performance.

Step 4. Conducting Diagnostic/Discipline-Referenced Assessments
The diagnostic portion of an assessment is the most formal component of assessment, utilizing standardized protocols and measurement tools. It has traditionally been the area of emphasis both in general educational assessment and in discipline-referenced assessment. Discipline-referenced assessment refers to an individual educational assessment conducted from a specific discipline perspective as part of a comprehensive educational assessment. The diagnostic/discipline-referenced assessment is most appropriately administered as the final area of a comprehensive educational evaluation. Assessing student performance in natural environments, analyzing discrepancies, and generating hypotheses serve to guide the diagnostic/discipline-referenced assessment. Information from steps 2 and 3 of the assessment process serves to identify educational performance priorities, thereby informing which diagnostic assessment to conduct.

The diagnostic/discipline-referenced portion of assessment should be chosen to offer specific insight related to performance within particular areas of educational priorities identified within steps 2 and 3. It is designed to focus on a student's performance difficulties within the educational context as opposed to simply generating a standardized score related to a normative sample of peers. The score generated from a standardized assessment is not important. Rather, the interpretation of that score, as it relates to educational performance, is the value of standardized assessment in a comprehensive assessment plan.

The purpose of the standardized or formal assessment in step 4 is to offer additional information related to performance difficulties already assessed through observation, progress monitoring data, and parent/teacher interview.

(Adapted with permission: Colorado Department of Education, Colorado Guidelines for Adapted Physical Education, 2007, 11-13)

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Is documentation required for students with special needs?

"Because ability to participate is the key criterion, it makes sense that assessment information ... should focus on the skills and behaviors that are necessary in general physical education."
Martin Block, A Teacher's Guide to Including Students with Disabilities in General Physical Education, 2000

Yes. The required documentation for students with special needs is the individualized education program (IEP).

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Individualized Physical Education Program (IPEP)

What is an Individualized Education Program (IEP)?

A Parent's Guide to Special Education, CSDE 2007, describes the Individualized Education Program (IEP) as:

A written education program for a child with a disability that is developed by a team of professionals (administrators, teachers, therapists, etc.) and the child's parents; it is reviewed and updated at least yearly and describes the child's present performance, what the child's learning needs are, what services the child will need, when and for how long, and identifies who will provide the services. (CSDE, 2007)

The IEP is a federally required document that lays out the program from which special education instruction and intervention is based. The IDEA states that a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment must include an individualized education program (IEP) for every student with a disability. Each student should have goals and short-term objectives. Goals are for one year (e.g., students will demonstrate all the correct components of an overarm throw; student will show a 20 percent increase on upper body strength). Short-term objectives are designed to be incremental steps (taking about two-three months) that lead to achievement of the long term goal. Using the throwing goal above as an example, a short term instructional objective might be: John will demonstrate stepping in opposition when performing the overarm throw four out of five trials. Note how these short term instructional objectives have clear, measurable criteria.

Short term instructional objectives should be created so that there is a reasonable likelihood for success, and general physical education teachers are expected to do their best to help each student with a disability master the objective. A reasonable standard for successfully meeting the IEP objective for the student is (a) if all skills are achieved, then objectives are probably not challenging enough and/or (b) if no skills were achieved, then objectives are probably too hard and skills should be broken down into simpler components. There should be a balance between obtaining objectives and challenging the student without creating feelings of failure. The physical education teacher is expected to help the student to work toward stated goals. However, the teacher is not held accountable for the achievement of the goals. Assessment should always be an ongoing process, and it is the ongoing process of assessment and adjustment of goals accordingly for which the teacher is accountable.

The IDEA requires that an IEP must be written according to the needs of each student who meets eligibility guidelines under the IDEA and state regulations, and it must include the following components:

IEP Components
A list of PPT recommendations must be recorded.
There is no requirement for meeting minutes to be kept.

Prior written notice:

  • must detail the decisions made regarding identification, eligibility, evaluation, or educational placement;
  • must record actions proposed or refused, an explanation of why the action was refused or proposed and the basis for the proposed or refused action; and
  • must be provided at least 5 days before the decisions are put into place.
  • special education, related services and other supports must allow for a child to:
    • advance toward annual goals;
    • progress in the general education curriculum;
    • participate in extra-curricular and non-academic activities; and
    • be educated and participate with children who do not have disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate.

Present level of academic achievement and functional performance

  • describes area of strengths, concerns and needs;
  • records the impact of the disability on participation in the general education  curriculum; and
  • records parent and student input and concerns.

Measurable Goals and Objectives

IEP goals and short-term objectives/benchmarks are measurable and objective statements written by the adapted physical educator and should align with a child's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. The goals and objectives are reflective of the general education and physical education instructional content and monitored/evaluated according to evaluation procedures and performance criteria set forth in the IEP and district policy to ensure that goals and objectives are being met in a timely manner.

Annual goals should be reasonably achievable by the child in one academic year. They must:

  • relate to identified areas of need;
  • be specific and measurable; and
  • note how and when progress will be measured and reported.

Accommodations and Modifications

Accommodations – changes the "how" of what is taught. A change is made to the teaching or testing procedures to provide a student with access to information and to create an equal opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and skill. Does not change the instructional level, content or criteria for meeting a standard.

Modifications – changes the "what" we teach.
A modification is a change in what a student is expected to learn and/or demonstrate. While a student may be working on modified course content, the subject area remains the same as the rest of the class.

The IEP also:

  • details special education, related services and the amount of time the student will spend with nondisabled peers; and
  • includes related services required by the child to benefit from their special education. Related services can include assistive technology, audiology, counseling, physical, occupational or speech/language therapy, school nurse, psychological or social worker services, transportation (CSDE, IEP Manual and Forms, 2010; and CSDE, Parents Guide to Special Education, 2007).

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How frequently should a student receive adapted physical education services?

Frequency of Intervention

The PPT makes specific recommendations for the frequency of service provision according to the needs of the student. Monitoring student performance is necessary to determine if the amount of service is appropriate to promote progress toward the student's IEP goals and objectives. Ongoing progress monitoring is an integral component to ensure that the educational needs of students are met through the implementation of effective intervention strategies with appropriate frequency.

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What if a student's IEP does not include physical education goals, and the PPT thinks they are warranted based on the student's needs and disability?

Physical education is defined by federal law as part of special education. So, students with disabilities should have IEP goals in physical education if the PPT thinks they are warranted based on the needs and disability of the student. The APE teacher is responsible for developing IEP goals for students with disabilities, and the goals should be developed in consultation with the entire PPT that is working with the student and the student's parents. The first step to correct the incomplete IEP is to reconvene the PPT and ask for the team's input regarding physical education goals for the student. Then, the APE teacher should state that he or she wants to and should be involved in all future PPT meetings to as an essential part of the process of developing and monitoring the best possible and most appropriate educational program for each of her or his students.

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Is extended school year (ESY) provided in the APE area?

It may be. This is a determined by the IEP committee. Every child with an IEP has the right to have ESY explored as part of his or her PPT meeting. Extended school year services are provided when necessary to the provision of FAPE.

Regression may be a consideration in determining whether ESY is provided. That is, skills that have been mastered are lost during the course of a break, and recouping these skills takes a greater span of time than the span of the break. Documentation of skill levels pre- and post-break is required to make this determination. State Standard 1 in Connecticut indicates both regression/recoupment criteria and nonregression criteria for determining ESY services:

  • nature and severity of student's disability (nonregression);
  • student is likely to lose critical skills or fail to recover these skills within a reasonable time as compared to typical students;
  • student's progress in the areas of learning are crucial to attaining self-sufficiency and independence from caretakers (nonregression); or
  • other special circumstances (ESY Update 28, January 10, 2002).

(Reprinted and adapted with permission from Conaster, P., Editor [2004]. P.E. Links 4 U: Adapted physical education, Vol.6 No.1; Colorado Department of Education, 2007, 28.)

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Can APE be a stand-alone service on an IEP?

Typically a student is determined to be eligible for special education services before being considered for APE services. PE is a direct, not a related, service and as such it can conceivably be the only service on an IEP. It is possible that a student presents with a disability that does not interfere with success in any area except physical education. Reasons for failure to thrive in physical education may be specific to the environment, or to specific perceptual-motor disabilities, for example. In this situation, careful consideration by the IEP team will determine whether APE services will be a stand-alone IEP service. While the incidence of APE as a stand-alone IEP service would be infrequent, under federal law the IEP process may determine a student to be eligible for APE as a stand-alone service if the student needs such a service to access the physical education curriculum.  Consultation may be designed to assist the staff in providing APE as a stand-alone service or providing support in an inclusive physical education program.

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What is an IPEP, and is it legally required?

An Individualized Physical Education Program (IPEP) is not a legally required document. Most physical educators and adapted physical educators develop and maintain IPEPs for their students who have special physical education needs. This voluntary method of documentation is useful in identifying students' needs and progress, and in reporting to the PPT.

Figure 8. Individualized Physical Education Program (IPEP)

According to IDEA, students aged 3-21 with disabilities must have an individualized education program (IEP) developed by a planning committee. Although not covered by federal law, an individualized physical education program (IPEP) should also be developed by a planning committee for those who have a unique need but who have not been identified by the school as having a disability. Each school should have policies and procedures to guide development of all individualized plans.

Some students with disabilities might not meet the eligibility criteria to qualify for federally mandated special education services provided by IDEA. Students with conditions such as HIV or AIDS, asthma, seizure disorder, diabetes, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or mild physical or learning disabilities may not require intensive special education services. These children may not be eligible for special education IEPs, but they might be entitled to appropriate accommodations and services tailored to meet their needs as provided in a section 504 disability accommodation plan (See page 14).

In physical education there might be a third group of students (in addition to those covered by IDEA and section 504) who require individualized programs. These students do not qualify as having  a disability that affects their education as defined under federal law, but they do have unique needs in physical education. Students who are recuperating from injuries, are recovering from noncommunicable diseases, are overweight, have low skill levels, or have deficient levels of physical fitness might fall into this category based on district criteria. Although this group of students is not eligible for special education accommodations according to federal law, it is recommended that school districts develop IPEPs to document programs modified to meet students' unique physical education needs. A unique need is apparent when a student cannot safely or successfully participate in the general physical education program

Excerpts from Winnick, J. (2011, 80). Adapted Physical Education and Sport, 5th Ed.. Human Kinetics. Reprinted by permission.

Figure 9. Guidelines for an Adapted Physical Educator

Be familiar with Federal and State legislation mandates for Physical Education and Adapted Physical Education, and apply appropriate practice.

Be familiar with Connecticut State Department of Education Physical Education Standards.  

Provide information regarding total program planning for students with disabilities to educate personnel and parents/guardians.

Observe, screen, assess, and evaluate students with disabilities, interpret assessment results, and plan for appropriate intervention services.

Observe students in the general physical education class to ensure proper accommodations are being provided to meet the student’s APE goals and objectives.

Maintain appropriate records on students following district policy.  

Establish a relationship with administrators, school personnel, parents/guardians, and non- school agencies to facilitate the education of students with physical/motor disabilities.

Be available as a resource for administrations, teachers, para-educators, general physical education teacher, and parents/guardians.

Assist school personnel in implementing appropriate Adapted Physical Education programs by recommending modifications in the existing physical education program, suggesting adapted equipment, methods and materials, and informing teachers of contra-indicated activities.

Be available for ongoing consultation and collaboration with teachers, para-educators, and PE teachers to carry out specific goals and components of the adapted physical education program.

Write assessments reports and progress notes, provide a three-year evaluation, and attend staff meetings.

Travel to school locations and areas served.

(Physical Education Committee of the Connecticut Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 2010. Internal document. Adapted and reprinted with permission.) 

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What are the caseload, or workload, limits for adapted physical education teachers?


The Connecticut State Department of Education does not make recommendations for a specific  caseload number for adapted physical educators. Caseload decisions are made at the administrative or district levels. Quantified caseload values do not capture the multiple responsibilities of the APE practitioner.  The CSDE recommends that class sizes do not exceed that of other subject areas.  It is best to engage with local administration in conversations related to workload and class size.

The distinction between caseload and workload can be significant. Workload includes all the activities required and performed by the APE. Workload demands will vary depending upon the size of a district and distance between schools. Caseloads must be sized appropriately to allow APEs to engage effectively in their workload activities, including:

  • Providing appropriate and effective intervention
  • Conducting evaluations  
  • Collaborating with teachers and parents  
  • Carrying out related activities  
  • Completing necessary paperwork
  • Completing compliance tasks within working hours

To inform discussion regarding workload and caseload, a systematic examination of activities and duties is suggested.  An effective way to determine workload demands is to disaggregate the APE’s daily activities and document the amount of time spent in each activity, for example:

  • Travel
  • Set-up
  • Collaborative team meetings
  • PPT meetings and IEP preparation
  • Consultation with team members
  • IEP service time, consultation and direct
  • Documentation          
  • Progress reporting
  • Planning
  • Consultation with general physical education teachers related to students not receiving APE
  • Manufacturing or assembling of adaptive/assistive equipment (adapted and reprinted with permission from Colorado Department of Education 2007, 30).

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Special Issues for APE Students

The Surgeon General reports that students with disabilities are in comparatively poorer physical health, and are at greater risk of health-related disease, than the general population (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007).  In Successful Inclusion in the Regular Physical Education Setting, Wilsey and Forrester (2009) provide persuasive data documenting, “that children with disabilities tend to have lower levels of physical fitness, higher levels of obesity, and participate less in extracurricular school-based or after-school physical activity programs than their peers without disabilities.”

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Physical Fitness Assessment

To the greatest extent possible students with special needs should be provided with the general physical education curriculum, including physical fitness education and health-related fitness assessment. Connecticut’s Third Generation Connecticut Physical Fitness Assessment (effective 2009) requires implementation of a physical fitness assessment program in which all students in Grades 4, 6, 8 and 10 participate in health-related physical fitness assessments of aerobic capacity, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility. 

Certain variations or accommodations may be provided for students with disabilities who need special assistance on the physical fitness tests.  Variations or accommodations should be specified in the student’s IEP or Section 504 Plan.  Suggested modifications of the fitness tests for children with disabilities are included in the appendix section of this guide. Appendix B includes a comprehensive listing of assessment instruments. Appendix D includes suggested modifications for children with disabilities for the Connecticut Third Generation Physical Fitness Assessment.  Modifications should be made only when necessary and appropriate.  Students’ health-related fitness status should be monitored, checked for progress as least as often as non-disabled students’ status, and should influence individual physical education programs (IEP or IPEP).  To the greatest extent possible, physical education programs for disabled children should emphasize moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MPVA).

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Obesity in Disabled Children and Adolescents

Children with disabilities are twice as likely as non-disabled children to be overweight or obese.  Social participation, already negatively impacted as an effect of disability, is further impaired by overweight.  In addition, obesity amplifies numerous health risk factors prevalent in disabled children and adolescents, just as in the non-disabled population.  However, disabled individuals have shown a tendency to be less physically active, and this is especially the case in children with developmental delays.  Patterns of physical inactivity are established at an early age and continue throughout youth and adolescence, and perseverate into adulthood. Adults with disabilities are more often overweight that are non-disabled adults.

{453} Physical impairments and psychomotor delays, sensory, or cognitive disabilities often prevent disabled children from participating in sports or recreational pursuits with healthy children and adolescents. Complications arising from their underlying conditions can limit disabled children from actively pursuing exercise or sports. Pain, for example, is known to affect children with cerebral palsy or children who overuse certain muscle groups (i.e., the shoulders in those using wheelchairs or walking aids).  Poor physical fitness, an impaired balance, and poor physical coordination are examples provided by Rimmer, (Rimmer et al., 2007) that further impede active participation in sports groups.

In most places, people with disabilities are conspicuously absent from public fitness and recreational facilities. The lack of facilities for people with disabilities in fitness centers, playgrounds and other recreation and sports centers present further barriers to exercise and physical activity. Lack of availability of accessible facilities is another factor that prevents or limits exercise that is sufficiently active to promote good health. Narrow footpaths or paths in poor condition may present obstacles as do lacking ramps for wheelchair access (Rimmer, 2005). 

Another factor that prevents or impedes participation by disabled individuals in physical activity and exercise in public and popular facilities is the lack of staff who are trained to assist or coach using the specialized methods and equipment that disabled people require.  It is hard to know for sure whether lack of interest, awareness or skills, lack of accessibility, or lack of trained personnel are greater obstacle to participation.  All of these factors must be addressed to increase opportunities for disabled individuals to engage in meaningful and beneficial physical activity and exercise.
Overprotective parents may pose another obstacle for disabled children in that they may not allow their children to play outdoors. Unsafe neighborhoods may have the same effect, where children with disabilities may be at greater risk of accidents, vilified, or exposed to violence.  Impaired mobility, financial expenses for special equipment, and lacking exercise facilities have been described as the most common barriers to exercising for disabled children and adolescents (Murphy and Carbone, 2008, 1061).

In view of the many barriers to exercise it is not surprising that disabled children spend more time watching television and playing computer games (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). The same behavior is also associated with obese children without disabilities (Giammattei, 2003, 882).  Intellectual and physical disabilities, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities impair social contact between children and adolescents with disabilities and their healthy peers.  Okely conducted a study of the relationship between body composition and fundamental movement skills expected to be useful for children and adolescents in their future adult lives.  The study’s findings conclude, not surprisingly, that exercise competence, which is often reduced in disabled children and adolescents, is also important for successful participation in community life (Okely et al., 2004, 246).

Important skills for APE programs to address include social adjustment and relationship-building.  Disabled people’s frequent lack of participation commonly triggers feelings of isolation and entails a risk of excessive eating as a compensatory mechanism for this social deficit.  Adolescents with impaired mobility encounter difficulty in forging friendships. Children with mental retardation play less often with other children compared with their healthy peers; and children with disabilities are often not accepted by their class mates, have fewer social contacts, and experience a higher rate of teasing.  Socially limiting factors include negative prejudices towards disabled people from the persons surrounding them.

In the study of public fitness and recreational facilities, Rimmer (2005) found that many young wheelchair users are also excluded from social events due to fact that the houses of their friends, restaurants, and other places where social activity including recreation, play, dance, physical acivity and exercise commonly occur lack ramps. All these factors result in exclusion from many school programs as well as community based programs. 

Offering a health intervention in obese children or adolescents with disabilities is likely to have many benefits.  Rimmer, Rowland and Yamaki (2007) studied obesity and secondary conditions in adolescents with disabilities and concluded thatif overweight is reduced successfully, harmful associated and resulting conditions can often be reduced and many secondary effects can be improved. This, in turn, has a positive impact on the underlying disease and the quality of life of the affected children (Rimmer et al., 2007).

Effective health promotion for children and adolescents with disabilities should be based on their abilities and interests and take into account their physical, cognitive, and/or sensory impairments.  “Emphasis on exercise and nutrition is a recommended approach in a health-related physical fitness program that is developed and adhered to in a multidisciplinary setting.  To most effectively promote physical activity among children and adolescents, Murphy and Carbone include in such a setting dieticians, psychologists, exercise specialists, and doctors (who ideally should also be specialized in treating the disabilities of children and adolescents)” (Murphy and Carbone, 2008, 1061).

It is important that parents are included in conversations, plans and interventions so that assumptions can be addressed, fears and anxieties relating to exercise can be reduced, overprotecting behavior can be discussed, and eating and nutrition patterns can be analyzed.  Just as when treating obese children without disabilities, the physical education, physical activity and physical fitness program should be fun, and should involve opportunities for collaboration with parents and caregivers. In children and adolescents with or without disabilities, exercise promotes muscular strength and physical fitness, reduces stereotypical movement patterns and thus reduces pain and fatigability.  In Exercise and Sports in Children and Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities: Positive Physical and Psychosocial Effects, Dykens explains that exercise promotes friendships, creativity, integration, social acceptance, self-confidence, and, ultimately, quality of life” (Dykens et al., 1998, 559).  Increasing muscular strength and physical fitness additionally reduces injuries, osteoporosis, or bone fractures, as well as dependence on others (McBurney et al., 2003; Murphy and Carbone, 2008).

There are several key points that summarize the seriousness of the problem of obesity in disabled children and adolescents:

  • Disabled children and adolescents and those with chronically illness have an increased risk for overweight and obesity. The risk groups include primarily children and adolescents with spina bifida, functional mobility impairments, developmental delays, learning difficulties, mental retardation, audiovisual impairments, autism, attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder, asthma, or juvenile arthritis.
  • Obesity in disabled or chronically ill children and adolescents exacerbates complications that arise from the disability itself and further restricts participation and quality of life of the affected children and adolescents.
  • Obese children and adolescents with disabilities may require more specialized interventions and training methods than established therapeutic and training plans for non-disabled children and adolescents
  • Specially structured, sustainable, effective prevention and intervention programs for obese children and adolescents with disabilities are a relatively new phenomenon and are the subject of increasing interest and development.

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Obesity and the Role of Schools and Families in Promoting Healthy Weight

The current epidemic of obesity associated with inactivity is a global health care concern for all children, including those with disabilities.  Children with disabilities are more likely than other children to be sedentary, placing them at higher risk of obesity and associated health conditions. Children with certain developmental disorders have higher prevalences of being at risk of overweight and being overweight than do children without developmental disorders (Bandini et al., 2005).  “Physical consequences of inactivity for persons with disabilities include reduced cardiovascular fitness, osteoporosis, and impaired circulation.  In addition, the psychosocial implications of inactivity include decreased self-esteem, decreased social acceptance, and ultimately, greater dependence on others for daily living. Overall, the participation of children with disabilities in sports and physical activities can decrease complications of immobility“ (Murphy and Carbone, 2008. Pediatrics Vol. 121 No. 5 May 2008, 1057).

Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, affecting more than 9 million children and teens in the United States alone. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), one of the ways to alleviate this problem starts with parents

and other family members.  Family members play an important part in the physical activity behavior of children.  This applies especially to children with disabilities. Disabilities present challenges to independent participation in physical activities such as sports and recreation, including access, transportation, costs, cognitive capacity and self-confidence, among others.  Disabled adolescents may have fewer friends with whom to participate in recreational activities. When challenges are too many or too great, the result is a sedentary lifestyle and limited social interaction.

Obesity is an important health concern and youth are affected at an alarming rate from conditions and diseases associated with physical inactivity. Equally important is the association between physical health and mental health. 

The AAP American Academy of Pediatrics offers health strategies for parents in A Parents Guide to Childhood Obesity: A Road Map to Health. The guide offers practical advice on how parents can help their children manage their weight. The guide examines the many effects of childhood obesity, from low self-esteem to serious medical conditions, and what parents can do to prevent them.  The guide offers sensible solutions to achieving a healthy weight, beginning with prenatal care and culminating in adolescence (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011). 

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Recreation Access for the Disabled

Physical activity offers opportunities for families to have fun together while interacting and sharing interests.  Increasingly, programs and facilities are available and accessible to all. Outdoor recreation opportunities are widely available and accessible to disabled pesons and their families.  The Department of Environmental Protection is working to ensure that all visitors have access to the many outdoor recreational opportunities available at Connecticut state parks and forests.  Accessible parking and picnic tables can be found at all park and forest recreation areas.  Public buildings at most state parks are also accessible, and many areas are undergoing conversion to accessible facilities.

The majority of state parks provide accessible restroom facilities. Additionally, many of the bathhouse facilities at state campgrounds have an individual, unisex bath addition on the buildings.  The unisex bathroom enables a child or an adult to get assistance from any parent or partner.  Some areas have campsites that are designated for use by individuals with disabilities with close proximity to restroom facilities and electrical outlets.  Features at some state parks include accessible swimming, beach surf chairs, accessible fishing  sites and platforms and wheelchair accessible trails.  For more information, go to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Web site.

All people can benefit from including children and adults, disabled and non-disabled.  Children of all abilities participating together in sports and recreational activities promotes inclusion, minimizes deconditioning, optimizes physical functioning, and enhances overall well-being. Despite these benefits, children with disabilities are more restricted in their participation, have lower levels of fitness, and have higher levels of obesity than their peers without disabilities. Decisions regarding each child's participation must well-informed and must consider overall health status, individual activity preferences, safety precautions, and availability of programs and equipment that meet the specific needs of each child. Murphy (Murphy and Carbone, 2008) suggests that health consultation visits encourage pediatricians, children with disabilities, and parents to collaboratively generate goal-directed activity prescriptions or programs. Numerous barriers to participation need to be recognized and addressed.  Anticipated obstacles include the child herself or himself, family, financial, and societal barriers. The goal is inclusion for all children with disabilities in appropriate activities.

Although national initiatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (i.e., Healthy People 2010; CDC's National Physical Activity Initiative; Let’s Move), the Centers for Disease Control, and the American Academy of Pediatrics stress the daily participation of all students in programs of physical education, this goal remains unmet. According to a 2000 study, only 8 percent of American elementary schools, 6.4 percent of middle schools, and 5.8 percent of high schools with existing physical education requirements provided daily physical education classes. More than three fourths of elementary, junior/middle, and senior high schools allow students to be exempted from required physical education; cognitive and physical disabilities are among the most common reasons for these exemptions (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). The combined advocacy efforts of well-informed pediatricians, parents, educators, and others are needed to ensure and promote the participation of all children in sports and physical activity programs, each according to his or her abilities (Murphy and Carbone, 2008). 

The Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health (1999) makes the following recommendations for addressing health disparities among disabled populations:

  • Provide quality, preferably daily, K–12 accessible physical education classes for children and youths with disabilities.
  • Provide community-based programs to meet the needs of persons with disabilities.
  • Ensure that environments and facilities conducive to being physically active are available and accessible to people with disabilities, such as offering safe, accessible, and attractive trails for bicycling, walking, and wheelchair activities.
  • Ensure that people with disabilities are involved at all stages of planning and implementing community physical activity programs.
  • Encourage health care providers to talk routinely to their patients with disabilities about incorporating physical activity into their lives

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Physical Activity/Therapeutic Recreation in and Outside of School

Physical activity and exercise are good for everyone.  According to the U.S. Surgeon General, an active lifestyle that includes regular exercise can:

  • Lower risk of developing heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis
  • Lower blood pressure if it is mildly elevated
  • Help with weight management by increasing metabolism
  • Help to improve cholesterol level
  • Improve ability to cope with stress
  • Provide psychological benefits such as improved self-image and self-confidence, better sleep and more positive outlook on life

An increase in physical activity can help one maintain independence. Those with a disability may feel limited in ability to engage in physical activity. However, avoiding physical activity increases risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, pressure sores, infections, fatigue, depression and osteoporosis. These conditions can result in even greater limitations, including the loss of independence. Balance muscle groups. Due to disability, muscles are more prone to underuse, overuse or misuse. For example, use of a wheelchair may result in highly developed anterior muscles, and cause the need for upper back muscle development in order to balance posture and physique.
Improve quality of life. Going to the gym, park or swimming pool can be fun, especially if one engages in these activities with family and friends.

Common barriers for people with disabilities include not having information about options, lack of money to buy equipment, transportation problems, and fatigue (Adaptive Physical Fitness Programs for People with a Disability; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A Report of the Surgeon General: Physical Activity and Health Persons with Disabilities).

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Sports Participation

Although recreational activities may be enjoyable and beneficial for people with disabilities, organized sports participation can enhance physical ability, physical fitness and quality of life for disabled persons.  Besides the benefits of physical activity, playing organized sports can help improve motor skills, mood and self-esteem.  Companionship is a benefit of sharing an activity with others.  Minor modifications and adapted sports, such as slowing down the pace of an activity, using modified equipment, limiting size of playing areas, can make many sports more enjoyable and inclusive for players of all ability levels (reprinted and adapted with permission from

{Student with assistive walking device} Sports participation enhances the psychological well-being of children with disabilities by providing opportunities to form friendships, express creativity, develop a self-identity, and foster meaning and purpose in life (Dykens et al., 2007, 768).  In a study of involvement in Special Olympics and its relations to self-concept and actual competency in participants with developmental disabilities, Weiss found that Special Olympics participants show heightened self-esteem, perceived physical competence, and peer acceptance when compared with nonparticipants (Weiss et al., 2003, 290).  Parents of Special Olympics athletes reported that their child's participation promoted social adjustment, life satisfaction, family support, and community involvement (Klein and Zigler, 1993).  Such events provide a much-needed venue for informal peer support and sharing of experiences among families of children with disabilities (Murphy et al., 2007, 185).  Participation in regular physical activity can foster independence, coping abilities, competitiveness, and teamwork among children with disabilities (Patel and Greydanis, 2002, 820).

Currently, a wide variety of sporting activities is accessible to children with disabilities, and guidelines are available to assist pediatricians in recommending activities appropriate for children with specific conditions.  In Promoting the Participation of Children With Disabilities in Sports, Recreation, and Physical Activities, Murphy and Carbone describe a "participation possibility chart," developed by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, to outline sporting options for individuals with the most frequently occurring physical disabilities  (Murphy and Carbone, 2008)  Rather than exclusion from sports participation, the goal is inclusion for all children with disabilities in appropriate activities. It is important that children are empowered with an "I can do" attitude rather than discouraged by the message "you can't do that” (Wilson, 2002).

Properly designed and implemented programs of sports and physical activities for children with disabilities should target cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, balance, agility, and muscular strength and accessibility, safety, and enjoyment (Wind et al., 2004). In Physical Activity for the Chronically Ill and Disabled, Durstene describes strategies to minimize the risks of illness or injury to children with disabilities during sporting activities should be implemented before participation (Durstene et al., 2000).

Special Olympics is an international organization that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown from a few hundred athletes to nearly four million athletes in over 170 countries in all regions of the world.  In addition to large-scale statewide, regional, national and international events, Special Olympics sporting events occur frequently throughout the year, many held locally.  Hundreds of thousands of coaches, educators and volunteers worldwide offer their time to train athletes, organize competitions and plan events. For more information about Special Olympics go to, and in Connecticut go to

In communities around the world, from the United States to Southeast Asia, Special Olympics athletes and their teammates without intellectual disabilities practice and play together on Unified Sports® teams.  Unified Sports® is a moving and exciting initiative for athletes of all ages, from youth to adults. By combining approximately equal numbers of athletes with and without intellectual disabilities on sports teams for training and competition, Unified Sports® teams provide the public direct opportunities to experience first-hand the capabilities and courage of Special Olympics athletes.  All Unified Sports® players, both athletes and partners, are of similar age and matched sport-specific skill ability. Unified Sports® teams are placed in competitive divisions based on their skill abilities, and range from divisions of lower skills (with a skill-learning focus) to high level competition. By having fun together in a variety of sports ranging from basketball to golf to figure skating, Unified Sports® athletes and partners improve their physical fitness, sharpen their skills, challenge the competition and help to overcome prejudices about intellectual disability. Unified Sports® is a fast-growing program in Connecticut; for information about Unified Sports® in Connecticut go to:

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Technology and APE

Technology is becoming more accessible, and there are many different ways to implement technology to enhance students’ physical development. Much of the technology available is designed to help the physical education teacher with preparation, instruction and management of the classroom and of record-keeping.  Technology is also becoming more widely used to help students with disabilities.  CD-ROMs that have been developed for various sports can be used to help teach students rules of games and how they are played. Physical education sign language can be learned via online courses and CD-ROM. Other examples include videos on basic motor skills and information on teaching students with disabilities and equipment for individuals with disabilities. Video files can also be used to demonstrate proper technique.

The internet is a great resource for students and APE teachers to find opportunities to continue being physically active. It is an important advantage for students to have access to resources so that they can navigate through the internet and find area events they can be a part of or public facilities where they can become members. There are many websites that show how to do activities, when physical activity events are going on, and where one can be physically active, whether it is in a park, gym or fitness club, or walking for a cause.  

APE teachers can develop an updated website regarding a fitness workout plan, in which students, who may need to stay at home some of the time or for extended periods of time, can download and follow at home with a sibling or parents. Students can be taught how to keep track of their physical fitness goals and record the data using various online features .

One of the simplest instructional technologies is the pedometer which can easily be introduced into any lesson to teach how to use to keep track of steps. Pedometers can also be calibrated to count other types of physical movements.  Teachers can play appropriate and motivating music for aerobic activities through an MP3 player or compact disc. Video games, exergaming  and fitness equipment are becoming increasingly predominant in physical education classes and can be used outside of school as well.

Information and resources pertaining to technology in physical education can be found on the PE Central Web site, which has a Web page dedicated to adapted physical education, or through web searches, list-serves and online discussion groups.

Interdisciplinary collaboration with others who work with students with special needs will yield helpful ideas about strategies and modalities the classroom teacher uses, which might also be used in the gymnasium.  In the Physical Education Technology Playbook, Castelli and Holland-Fiorentino (2008) describe numerous modalities and technologies that can be utilized to engage students and to add manageability for teachers such as computer software to organize and maintain assessment information.


Content Last Modified on 3/1/2016 4:55:54 PM