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How To Integrate the Special Needs Student into Physical Education


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Public Law 108-466 (2004), states that physical education is a required service for children and youth between the ages of 3-21 who qualify for special education services because of a specific disability or developmental delay.

The term special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including: instruction conducted in the classroom and instruction in physical education. The specially designed program will be outlined in the child's Individual Education Program/Plan (IEP). Therefore, physical education services, specially designed if necessary, must be made available to every child with a disability receiving FAPE.

Physical Education for a special needs child will develop: Physical and motor fitness; Fundamental motor skills and patterns; and skills in aquatics, dance, and individual and group games and sports (including intramural and lifetime sports).[p The implication of IDEA's laws is basically to integrate all children within instructional and extra class programs and to individualize the instructional strategies and activity areas to support the special needs children. Some activites will have more restrictions than others and some will be less vigorous than others depending on the needs. The teacher in conjunction with other supporting staff will decide if the physical education program requires mild, moderate or limited participation. Remember that you will be adapting, modifying, and changing the activity and or equipment to meet the needs of the special needs students. This may mean, larger balls, bats, partner assistance, using different body parts, providing more rest time. The goal is to ensure the child is progressing and having some form of success.

Helpful Suggestions

1. Consult with parents and specialized support staff.
2. Do not require students to do activities they are not capable of.
3. Don't have student selections for teams and games that will leave the special needs child the last to be selected.
4. Whenever possible, create tasks that the child with a handicap is capable of performing, this helps self-respect.
5. There are a wealth of resources online and with associations concerned with exceptional children. Search out these resources.

Remember, when working towards an inclusional approach, you will always need to think:

  • How can I change this activity to suit the student?
  • How can I adapt this activity?
  • How can I modify this activity?
Think in terms of action, time, assistance, equipment, boundaries, distance etc.

One special educator I worked with told me that she had tremendous success with Yoga when working on adaptive physical education. When searching for activities to support your learners with disabilities, try searching the term: Adapted Physical Education or Activities or Lesson Plans.

Questions To Ask Yourself:
How will you assess the physical activity?
Can you involve a teacher's assistant or parent volunteer?
How will you ensure the rest of the class involves your student with a handicap?

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