There has been a disturbing finding from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports research. According to the Council, only 29 percent of students with disabilities take physical education classes at least five days a week, compared to 34 percent of students without disabilities. Children with disabilities get four-and-half times less physical activity than children without disabilities. A Department of Health and Human Services study found that less than 25 percent of children get at least an hour of exercise every day; children with disabilities get even less. Physical education (P.E.) is generally the only class special-needs students regularly take, yet it remains too low of priority on many school curricula.
The Department of Education provides “little information or guidance on P.E. or extracurricular athletics for students with disabilities, and some states and districts GAO interviewed said more would be useful,” according to a 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. The report stated that the Education Department’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) failed to provide detailed information on the types of special accommodations children with disabilities may require. The GAO’s report also found that lack of trained staff contributed to the problem of inadequate physical education for students with disabilities. Teachers in some states must be licensed to teach adapted physical education (A.P.E.), while teachers in other states are not required to be specially licensed.
The Department of Education recently issued these guidelines in response to the GAO’s findings:
- Improve accessibility by considering special accommodations in the physical environment as well as its security and safety.
- Modify existing equipment or provide access to specialized equipment; use equipment such as a treadmill, Xbox, PlayStation, or Wii.
- Train staff by teaching them about disabilities and educating students with special needs.
- Manage behavior by training staff about positive behavior reinforcement and methods to address behavioral issues and why such issues may arise (i.e., not due to a student being “bad” but may have difficulty communicating).
The Education Department, in keeping with the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), states that students with disabilities should be allowed to participate in P.E. activities along with students without disabilities to the “maximum extent possible.” The department’s guidelines also recommend that P.E. curricula for special-needs students focus on socialization as well as fitness.
“Athletics in the school setting involve complex interactions in settings less controlled than the typical academic classroom,” the guidelines say. “Team play and sportsmanship cannot be taught except through participation.”
The Education Department also recommends more accessible physical education spaces like mats and other soft surfaces in place of concrete, but not wood chips or sand, which wheelchairs can’t maneuver. All of these guidelines require participation, however. School administrators must realize the importance of well-rounded physical education programs and physical activity in educating special-needs students. Educators must make physical education just as essential as other scholastic skills and acknowledge that it enhances learning.
Does your child get enough physical education? And is the school’s program adapted and accessible?