Adapted Physical Education is generally viewed as a term that originated in the United States. In 1975, the United States Congress created Public Law 94-142 (today known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA]) believed that students with disabilities could benefit from physical education and that physical education services, modified when necessary, should be a part of all students’ educational programs. Although legislators realized that many students with disabilities could participate in general physical education without the need for modifications to the general program, they also realized that some students with disabilities would have difficulty safely and successfully participating in and benefiting from general physical education without modifications or support. Thus, various adaptations would be necessary for these students to truly benefit from physical education. When students with disabilities need extra support to benefit from general physical education or when these students need a special physical education program, they qualify for “specially designed physical education” or adapted physical education

Definition of Adapted Physical Education

Adapted physical education is a sub-discipline of physical education with an emphasis on physical education for students with disabilities. The term generally refers to school-based programs for students ages 3–21; the more global term adapted physical activity refers to programs across the life span, including post-school sport and recreation programs. Various definitions of adapted physical education have been developed over the past 20 years). However, the definition by Dunn & Leitschuh (2010) seems to be most appropriate: “Adapted physical education programs are those that have the same objectives as the regular physical education program, but in which adjustments are made in the regular offerings to meet the needs and abilities of exceptional students” (2010, p. 5). Note that both general and adapted physical education share the same objectives. The major difference between general and adapted physical education is that in the latter, “adjustments” or adaptations are made to the regular offerings to ensure safe, successful, and beneficial participation. Many adaptations can be implemented within the general physical education setting such as asking a peer to provide assistance, modifying equipment and rules of games such as lowering the basketball basket or allowing a child to stand closer to net when serving in volleyball, or modifying instruction such as using pictures or visual cues for children with hearing impairments or extra verbal cues and physical guidance for children with visual impairments.

Goals and objectives of adapted and general physical education might be the same with some minor differences. For example, learning to push a wheelchair or play wheelchair basketball might be a goal for a child with a spinal cord injury, while running and playing regular basketball is a goal for a child with a disability. In other cases a child with a disability might focus on fewer objectives or modified objectives within a domain (e.g., physical fitness) compared to peers without disabilities. For example, maintenance of low levels of health-related physical fitness might be a priority for a student with muscular dystrophy or cystic fibrosis but not for a physically fit student without disabilities who focus on higher levels of fitness training. Finally, children with more severe disabilities might have unique, individually determined objectives that are very different than peers without disabilities. These might include a child with cerebral palsy learning to walk using crutches or a child with a visual impairment learning how to play goal ball.

* Modified from Block, M.E. (2016). A teacher’s guide to adapted physical education (4th Ed.). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.