Adapted Phy. Ed. Is It in Your Child’s IEP? It Should Be.
Several years ago I was working with one of my in-home athletes and his visiting uncle asked “Doesn’t he get gym at school?” I assumed the answer was, as it is for many school-age individuals with autism, “not really.” The problematic lack of adapted PE programs across the US is systemic. There are, however, a few main points to consider. The goal for any IEP is to provide the same opportunities, as appropriate to their abilities, as neurotypical, or general population students. So what is adapted PE supposed to include? How does it compare to Physical Education for other students? If you think that physical fitness and regular activity should be widely available to students with special needs, read on. If not, you should be perfectly content with the current state of Adapted PE.
The IDEA Act of 2004 states that students with disabilities shall have access to “physical education,” defined by the development of:
- Physical and motor skills
- Fundamental motor skills and patterns
- Skills in aquatics, dance, and individual and group games and sports (including intramural and lifetime sports).
In the most current version of New York State (where I reside), it is stated that Adapted PE is a “Direct” and not a “Related” service, meaning it is a requirement for all students with disabilities.
Both the federal and state mandates are clear in that students must have access to physical education programs, which confuses me more each time I speak at a conference and hear from attendees that they have essentially no adapted PE program in their school, or district, for that matter. Usually, it is explained as a “budget issue,” but it is odd to me, and yes I have a professional bias, that while other academic programs are spared (barely, but still), physical education is a comparatively easy curriculum to cut. Parents should know that their school district is required to provide and adaptive PE program.
As a parent it is, unfortunately, important to not assume that simply because Adapted PE is on the IEP (and it should be), that adequate programming is being provided. In the introduction to this article I mentioned that there are some systematic issues with Adapted PE. One of those problems is the predominant focus on team sports (basketball, football, soccer, baseball) by general physical education programs. Many Adaptive programs try to emulate what goes on in the typical PE class, so there are “adapted” versions of these sports. Here is where, from my perspective as an Exercise Physiologist, things begin to unravel:
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