Schools Could Use Guidance on Physical Education for Disabled Kids

By Christina A. Samuels — June 23, 2010 1 min read
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Students with disabilities get about the same time in physical education as their counterparts in general education, but teachers could benefit from sharing resources on how to keep kids with emotional or physical disabilities active, according to a government report released today.

The report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency, says that most students with disabilities get about the same time in PE as their counterparts in general education. That makes sense: About 62 percent of students served under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act have either a “specific learning disability” (like dyslexia) or a speech or language impairment, neither of which should preclude unmodified physical activity.

But not surprisingly, teachers reported that it’s harder to know how to incorporate students into a physical education program when they have more involved needs, such as emotional disturbances, chronic illnesses like asthma, or disabilities that impair movement. According to the report:

A notable challenge to serving students with disabilities in general PE classes is the lack of sufficient training or experience among PE or classroom teachers, according to our interviews and other research. Many state, district, and school officials we interviewed said that PE teachers typically take one course on working with students with disabilities in their undergraduate training. This coursework may not always include practical experience working with students with disabilities, and several studies found that PE teachers reported feeling insufficiently prepared to teach students with disabilities.

That’s where the federal Education Department comes in: Some teachers said they would appreciate it if the feds shared promising practices that are in place in various states, or provide factsheets or toolkits. The department says that it hasn’t done so because it has only limited monitoring capacity and has focused its attention on other priorities because there haven’t been many complaints.

Realistically, I believe inclusion in physical education will remain a low priority area for federal officials unless there’s a groundswell of discontent over the issue. But this may be an area where private organizations, like the Special Olympics, could step in to help schools and districts. The American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation also maintains a resource list for teachers looking for additional training.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.