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Matthew Schinelli
Special Education, Legal & Planning

What You Need to Know About Adapted Physical Education

Maybe you've heard the term "adapted physical education" because your child is receiving it at school — or maybe you've heard it mentioned in an online forum and wondered why your child wasn't getting that. We asked Matt Schinelli, an expert in adapted physical education and the founder of New Jersey All People Equal (NJAPE), to answer some questions about what adapted physical education is and how parents can get an appropriate physical-education experience for their kids with special needs.

What is adapted physical education?

“Adaptive physical education” refers to specially designed instruction based upon specific modifications to traditional instructional cues or curriculum skills. Simply put, APE implies that the manner and/or material that is taught is provided in a non-traditional method. APE services can be delivered in the general physical education setting or a self-contained one. Regardless of the setting, specific goals and objectives are worked on. These goals and objectives should be established based on a formal assessment by a physical education or APE specialist, not a physical or occupational therapist.

Is there special teacher training?

Some states have specific certifications and requirements for APE, but not all. There is a national certification, and there are a few organizations that provide professional development training that award a non-state certificate. It's important to remember that although many teachers have great instincts and skills to teach all children, very few receive more than one basic course during their college training. If a district does not have an APE specialist in-house, parents may want to consider getting an outside screening to determine a child’s strengths and weaknesses.

What makes a student eligible for adapted physical education?

This is a critical question, perhaps the most important one to consider. Often children with disabilities are placed in or out of the general physical education setting, and given some or no APE services, without ever being formally assessed. The first step is an accurate and comprehensive assessment. The child’s gross motor, fitness, sport skill, and cognitive strengths and weaknesses as they relate to state core content standards and the local curriculum for physical education. This assessment should be done by a general physical education teacher or an APE specialist. From there, they can recommend any services or the least restrictive placement.

Do all schools offer adapted physical education?

In most cases, schools attempt to provide an APE section or class. However, where that service is delivered and how children are evaluated to gain access to that class varies greatly. The best programs offer an array of APE services, including self-contained, supplemental instruction, mainstreamed, and inclusive. Unfortunately, in some cases there is no support and students are simply “dropped” into the general setting, or a physical therapist serves as the substitute. In both cases, the child can lose out on the benefits of a comprehensive approach.

What can parents do if the school doesn’t offer it?

First and foremost, parents should be asking a few basic questions: • Where is my child receiving his/her physical education program? • Who is providing the instruction? • Has my child been formally assessed to determine strengths and weaknesses as they relate to physical education? • What is the process for determining where and what goals are to be worked on if the assessment reveals that APE is required? Parents should approach their child’s physical education needs in the same way that they would for traditional academic or behavioral needs. If parents are not satisfied with the services being delivered, then they should request to have their child assessed by an APE specialist.

WRITTEN ON November 18, 2016 BY:

Matthew Schinelli

Matthew Schinelli founded NJAPE LLC to advocate for the inclusive recreation, fitness, adapted physical education, and wellness needs of individuals who are differently abled. 2016 marked his 22nd year in this field; his professional experiences includes serving as a consultant, varsity coach, family advocate, public school teacher, and author. His professional training includes a Masters in Kinesiology—Adapted Physical Education from The University of Virginia.