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Physical Education (PE) & Adapted Physical Education (APE)

Kids in wheelchair playing handballIDEA 2004 requires that students with disabilities be provided with physical education. If your child has a disability and an IEP, the school must provide physical education as part of your child's special education program. Many children benefit from adapted physical education.

Because physical education is a required component of special education, your child's physical education teacher should be included as a member of the IEP team.

Physical Education Requirement in IDEA

34 C.F.R.300.39(b)(2) IDEA defines "physical education" as the development of:

  • Physical and motor skills
  • Fundamental motor skills and patterns
  • Skills in aquatics, dance, and individual and group games and sports (including intramural and lifetime sports).

20 U.S.C. 1401(29) Special Education. The term 'special education' means specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including -

(A) instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and

(B) instruction in physical education.

34 CFR 300.108 Physical Education. The State must ensure that public agencies in the State comply with the following:

(a) General. Physical education services, specially designed if necessary, must be made available to every child with a disability receiving FAPE, unless the public agency enrolls children without disabilities and does not provide physical education to children without disabilities in the same grades.

(b) Regular physical education. Each child with a disability must be afforded the opportunity to participate in the regular physical education program available to nondisabled children unless -

(1) The child is enrolled full time in a separate facility; or

(2) The child needs specially designed physical education, as prescribed in the child's IEP.

(c) Special physical education. If specially designed physical education is prescribed in a child's IEP, the public agency responsible for the education of that child must provide the services directly or make arrangements for those services to be provided through other public or private programs.

(d) Education in separate facilities. The public agency responsible for the education of a child with a disability who is enrolled in a separate facility must ensure that the child receives appropriate physical education services in compliance with this section.

Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2d Edition, p. 55, p. 202, and p. 206.

Interpretation of the PE Requirement

Commentary to IDEA (page 46583) discusses when PE is required for students with disabilities beyond the grade level requirement of nondisabled peers.

1. Physical education must be made available equally to children with disabilities and children without disabilities.

2. If physical education is specially designed to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability and is set out in that child’s IEP, those services must be provided whether or not they are provided to other children in the agency.

From H. Rpt. No. 94–332, p. 9, (1975):

Special education as set forth in the Committee bill includes instruction in physical education, which is provided as a matter of course to all non-handicapped children enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools. The Committee is concerned that although these services are available to and required of all children in our school systems, they are often viewed as a luxury for handicapped children.

US Department of Education: Policy Letters, Guidance, and Clarification

Applicability of Physical Education for Children (Age 18-21) with Disabilities in Transition Program, OSEP Policy Letter to Luke Kelley, October 23, 2013 (PDF)

Applicability of Physical Education for Preschool Children with Disabilities, OSEP Policy Letter to Garth Tymeson, July 31, 2013 (PDF)

Denying Mandatory Physical Education Instruction for Children with Disabilities, OSEP Policy Letter to James Irby, February 12, 2010 (PDF)

Schools’ Obligation to Provide Equal Opportunity to Students with Disabilities to Participate in Extracurricular Athletics, OCR Guidance Document, January 25, 2013.

Adapted Physical Education

Adapted physical education (APE) is about meeting the unique needs of individual students with disabilities. In APE, the instructor provides planning and assessment, consultation, specialized instruction, and adapts or modifies the curriculum, task, equipment, and/or environment so a child can participate in all aspects of physical education.

Adapted Physical Education National Standards (APENS). The mission of APENS is to promote the fifteen Adapted Physical Education Standards and national certification exam.  The goal of APENS is to ensure that all students who qualify for specially designed physical education services receive them from a "qualified" teacher.

Eligibility Criteria for Adapted Physical Education Services. Position statement (2010) from NASPE and AAPAR aims to help teachers, school administrators, local education agencies (LEA) and parents determine when it’s appropriate to deliver special education services to a child in physical education and to appreciate the continuum of placements and services to consider when providing this instruction.

Preparing Qualified and Effective Adapted Physical Educators to Improve Outcomes for Students with Disabilities. Personnel development in adapted physical education can lead to meaningful student success and positive education outcomes. This Webinar from the National Center to Improve Recruitment and Retention of Qualified Personnel for Children with Disabilities highlights the roles & responsibilities and preparation of adapted physical education (APE) teachers.

Which states require APE Certification for teachers?*

Certification or endorsement in APE
Dual endorsement for PE and APE
Attempting to get APE certification
Dropped APE certification
South Dakota
Rhode Island





*Note: We are in the process of verifying state certification and updating this chart. Please check your own state regulations for requirements about APE certification for teachers.

videoHealthy, Physically Fit and Ready for Action: Addressing the Physical Education and Activity Needs of Individuals with Disabilities. Professional Development Program for the National Association of State Directors of Special Education focusing on physical education for students with disabilities, presented by Bob Arnhold, Garth Tymeson, Linda Webbert, Bill East.

Do you know the Top 10 Most Common Misconceptions about Physical Education for Students with Disabilities? Take the quiz.


Physical Education and IEP Development. All of the IEP requirements make the physical educator more accountable for including students with disabilities in regular physical education whenever it is appropriate.

Why You Need to Ask "Dumb" Questions. I was so "dumb" that when my daughter was in first grade, her father or I went to school every day she was scheduled for physical education so we could remove her from activities that were contraindicated for her physical condition. I was so "dumb" I didn't know there was such a thing as adaptive physical education...

Feeling Guilty About Asking For Special Ed Services? Remember the Domino Effect. A second issue in our hearing was whether my child required Adaptive Physical Education (APE). At the time of our hearing in 1987, APE was not provided to any child in the entire county. The hearing officer ruled that my child did require adaptive physical education. Since 1988, APE has been provided to hundreds of children in our county.

Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Upholds Jury Award of One Million to Fired Special Ed Teacher by Peter Wright, Esq. & Pamela Wright, MA, MSW. Soon after she began work as an adaptive PE teacher, Dr. Settlegoode. was struck by inequities in access and services. Her students were not allowed to participate in activities that were freely available to non-disabled students. Many of these denials of access were in clear violation of law.

U.S. Department of Education Clarifies Schools’ Obligation to Provide Equal Opportunity to Students with Disabilities to Participate in Extracurricular Athletics.

Athlete Sues for Right to Compete; State Passes Athletics Equity Law. As a high school freshman, Tatyana sued her school for the right to compete on the same track, at the same time, as her non-disabled teammates. Her high-profile case won hearts, and led the Maryland General Assembly to pass a unique law — the Fitness and Athletics Equity for Students with Disabilities Act.

Schools Could Use Guidance on Physical Education for Disabled Kids by Christina Samuels. 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 the 2010 GAO Report on Physical Education for Students with Disabilities.

Age 19 Rules: Fair Play or Discrimination? My daughter is hearing impaired and was retained because of her disability. Although she wants to play basketball in high school, she will only be eligible in 9th and 10th grades. She is being penalized because of her disability and I don’t think it’s fair. Is this legal?  

Does an IEP make a child ineligible for sports? I was told that my child cannot participate in sports at school because he has an IEP. Isn’t this discrimination?

Adapted Physical Education and A.T.: To Play or Not to Play. For generations children with disabilities nationwide received little or no physical education or consigned to special education PE classes. Many with severe and profound disabilities were left out by teachers who possessed little or no training in how best to include them. Today, an increasing number of educators trained in adapted physical education – a growing number of whom are APENS certified -- are applying their training nationwide.

Adapted Physical Education and AT: An “Unbelievably Strong Link.”
An Interview with Timothy Davis, Ph.D., Chairman, Adapted Physical Education National Standards (APENS).

Physical Education for Children with Disabilities. Pacer Information Sheet.

Physical Education Classes can be Adapted for Children with Disabilities by Beth Casper in the Early Childhood Connection Newsletter, Winter 2004, p.6.

Existing Physical Activity and Recreation Opportunities (Recreation as a Related Service). If your child has a disability and is receiving school services in an IEP, your child may be eligible to receive leisure and recreation program services as a related service.

Mandate Offers Students With Disabilities Shot At School Sports. Under the Fitness and Athletic Equity Act for Students with Disabilities passed in 2008, Maryland public schools are required to provide students with disabilities the opportunity to try out and play on mainstream school sports teams.

Taking Away Recess as Punishment - Find a Better Way. We wanted the school to come up with an alternative punishment other than taking away recess. Learn what creative solution the IEP team found to help a child have a positive experience instead of a negative one.

Recess - Children's Play and Fitness

Update: Policy Statement (12/31/12):  The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons. The Crucial Role of Recess in School

National Association of Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) Position Statement. Physical Activity Used as Punishment and/or Behavior Management. Administering or withholding physical activity as a form of punishment and/or behavior management is an inappropriate practice.

Articles by Rae Pica, www.movingandlearning.com, a children’s physical activity specialist since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire who served on the task force of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE).

Children typically love recess so it seems quite logical that withdrawing recess from children who misbehave or fail to do assignments is an appropriate disciplinary approach. But some argue that withholding recess does more harm that good.

PodcastsAudio podcastFree downloads available at iTunes from BAM - Body, Mind and Child

  • #64 Withdrawing Recess As Punishment. Does It Work?
  • #9 Fitting Fitness in the Curriculum
  • #33 Why Kids aren't Going Outside When they Should
  • #70 Solving the growing physical activity problem
  • #87 Rough and Tumble Play is Really a Good Thing

Podcasts from National Association for Sport and Physical Education Radio:

Audio podcastWithdrawing Recess as Punishment: Does it Work? This podcast from answers the question "Is withholding recess harmful?" and discusses how recess activities can improve behavior for children with ADHD. (Now available as free download on itunes - BAM Radio #64).

Audio podcastWhy Recess Matters, How to Defend It? This podcast includes a brief discussion of research about the importance of recess for an child with ADHD.

PE Central hosts a section on Frequently Asked Questions. Ask their Adapted PE Expert questions or check the previously answered questions in the archives. Use the search function to find answers on any PE topic or go directly to Adapted PE FAQs. Topics include:

  • Adaptations for Physical Activities
  • Adapted Aquatics Programming
  • Adapted Physical Education Programming
  • Assessment
  • Autism
  • Behavior/Emotional Disturbance
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Down Syndrome
  • Hearing Impairment
  • IEP Information
  • more...

Free Pubs

Students with Disabilities: More Information and Guidance Could Improve Opportunities in Physical Education and Athletics. Report (June 2010) from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency, says "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."

Shape of the Nation Report 2010National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The 2012 Shape of the Nation Report:Status of Physical Education in the USA provides a current picture of physical education (PE) in the American education system.

State Standards for Physical Education (2012). 48 states and the District of Columbia reported that they have developed their own state standards for physical education.The chart below indicates what areas are covered by those standards. Iowa and Minnesota do not have state standards for physical education. Alaska has developed standards but they have not yet been adopted.


Adapted Physical Education from PE Central. A premier website for health and physical education.

National Consortium for Physical Education for Individuals with Disabilities (NCPEID)

Center on Disability Health and Adapted Physical Activity

Undergraduate Minor in Adapted Physical Education Teaching. Wisconsin is one of 14 states that has a separate add-on teaching license/certification in adapted physical education (an attempt to prepare “highly qualified” physical education teachers to implement IDEA required physical education services to eligible students with disabilities).

Special Olympics: Inspiration from Eunice Kennedy Shriver, A Woman With So Much to Do. Today, millions of athletes in more than 180 countries participate in the Special Olympics Games, games that began in Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s backyard.

Adapted Physical Education - Parent Links from PE Central. Physical activity participation is hard for individuals with disabilities. Parents can make a difference in the physical activity behaviors of their child and in turn impact on their own fitness levels.

The American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). Professional organization of those involved in physical education, leisure, fitness, dance, health promotion, and education and all specialties related to achieving a healthy lifestyle. AAHPERD provides members with an array of resources, support, and programs to help practitioners improve their skills.

National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD)

NCPAD Directory of Programs for people with disabilities and health conditions, including camps, therapeutic recreation, and adapted PE programs. Browse the programs by name, state or country, or you can search by a specific zip code and list only the programs closest to you.

President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition (PCFSN)

Let's Move


Created: 08/26/10
Revised: 03/27/14

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