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How to Include Kids with Disabilities in Your PE Activities

Young Girl Smiling and Holding a Basketball

As a society, we're increasingly tolerant and a little fearful of physical disability. Even as schools push for greater inclusivity, they shirk sharp talk about the challenges of adaptive education. There's a fear that, by addressing weaknesses in the way we teach children with unique needs, we'll make our schools seem insensitive, intolerant places.

The truth is, the more we ask questions, address gaps in our knowledge and show a willingness to learn, the easier it is to answer the big questions. What is physical education really like for pupils with disabilities? Should all children - whatever their impairment - be included? Are PE lessons definately a benefit for all children?

In this guide to adaptive physical education, we consider the challenges of teaching children with unique needs (and why it's worth it):

What Schools Can Do

There are many degenerative conditions (muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, etc) that can limit a child's ability to participate in sports and physical activities. Yet, rather than excluding such pupils from PE lessons, schools can provide adaptive teaching. With modifications, regressions and adjustments, it's possible for all children to keep their bodies healthy.

Studies show kids with disabilities enjoy exercise as much as their peers. Schools should consider adaptive teaching for pupils with impaired endurance, muscle strength and coordination.

Keep a record of adapted activities and goals in Personal Education Plans.

It's easy to make motor skills monitoring an integrated part of your physical curriculum with Amaven's Impact Reports. Click for more on this and other features in the Healthy Schools Programme.

Four Areas of Adaptation

Adaptations to physical activities can be made in the following four areas:

1. Instruction

Teachers may give adapted instructions in different ways. For instance, physically demonstrating modified instructions to specific pupils or the whole class. Or displaying printed instructions with large letters for the duration of lessons. Targeted oral prompts may be delivered. Another option is to pair vulnerable children with able bodied peers.

2. Rules

Game rules can be freely modified to give all pupils the same chance at achieving PE goals. This usually means altering difficulty levels. For instance, if a game involves throwing at a target, some children may need to stand closer. Consider extended time requirements and special circumstances (no eliminations, for example).

3. Location

All PE lessons (regardless of ability) must be held in a safe, secure setting. Teachers may adapt environments by using tape, chalks, cones or other bright materials to mark out boundaries. Don't forget, extra padding is useful for all pupils, not just those with impaired stability or mobility.

4. Equipment

Adaptions to equipment can be simple and inexpensive. For example, clubs, bats and sticks may be equipped with wrist straps to support those with poor gross motor abilities. Some lowered throwing targets and larger balls may be provided. Sports cones are a good way to elevate balls and allow for easier kicking. 

Adaptions for PE Lessons

  • Provide a variety of sporting apparatus, including large and soft balls, lightweight bats, clubs and sticks with wrist straps and catching mitts.

  • Give pupils more time to travel between stations, points and bases.

  • Allow pupils the use of a batting or kicking 'tee' for object manipulation activities.

  • Pupils in wheelchairs are permitted to hold balls and other objects in their laps while moving.

  • Pupils with limited mobility are permitted to move around in a smaller area of play.

  • When attempting to bat balls, throwing or pitching distance may need to be lowered.

  • The height of games nets (volleyball, tennis, etc) may be lowered to support pupils in wheelchairs or with impaired gross motor abilities.

Why Everybody Wins in Adaptive PE

High quality adaptive PE lessons enable all young people to develop key skills. This is important as, even if abilities aren't uniform, it's still possible for everybody to improve in some way. The focus should be on creating safe learning spaces that assign more value to progress than winning. It's also important to monitor the development of movement skills. 

Click to read our blog about object manipulation skills and why they're an indicator of cognitive function.   

The purpose of physical education is not to be the best, but to learn more about the ways our bodies move. Thus, your priority isn't whether Susie or Sam throws better than the rest, but whether they can find creative ways to achieve given goals. Good teachers foster broad perspectives on what it means to be successful.

When children know they can be successful, they learn without limits.