Including Children with Special Needs Physical Education Plans

by SPARK


special needs

With physical education programs being reduced across the U.S., the crunch on activity in school is felt even more acutely by children with special needs. Research shows that students with disabilities receive 4.5 times less physical activity than their non disabled peers. And when they are in physical education class, children with special needs are often less likely to be selected for teams and directed to sit on the sidelines. This leads not only to a lack of social interaction, but also develops a negative association to the physical activity that can keep them healthy.

An inclusive physical education plan has the ability to shape the relationship a child with special needs has with sport and activity. Below are a few techniques to make sure no child gets left behind.

Create Smaller Groups

Large class sizes make it hard to give each student personal attention, not to mention a student with special needs.

Whether your physical education class is 20 students or 150, it’s important to break into smaller groups to ensure everyone participates and gets the attention they need. This can involve utilizing the skills of teacher helpers, special needs assistants, and student leaders, assigning them to supervise different groups of activities.

Team sports with a low number of players-per-team such as ball hockey can also better ensure all students are involved and active.

Adapt Existing Activities

Physical education teachers don’t need to reinvent the wheel in order to be inclusive. Adapted physical activity involves updating traditional team and individual sports in order to make the game better suited to students with motor and intellectual disabilities.

Adapting existing activities is a valuable tool for physical educators since the games can be played by all students as part of inclusion and universal design for learning.

Have the Right Equipment

This is another element of adapting activities for students with special needs.

A variety of specialized equipment can greatly impact a student’s ability to be involved in physical education activity. For example, children with coordination issues may have a difficult time with standard issue balls. Bean bags, nerf balls, and other options may be good alternatives that promote inclusion and success. Cones and spot markers may also be helpful in providing spatial boundary definition and play space area for students with sensory motor issues.

Consider padding play area surfaces for students with dyspraxia, and ensure an area is easy for students in wheelchairs to maneuver.

All-In Participation Activities

Another way of including children with special needs in physical education plans is to select team building activities that require participation from every student. Simple obstacle courses and relay races can be options, as can having small groups of students coach one another through basic yoga and aerobics moves. Having students help one another will create leadership skills and bonds between special needs students and their peers.
Before reworking any physical education plan, meet with your school’s special education team and the parents of students with disabilities. They will have a better sense of a child’s unique needs and how you can best accommodate them in your class.

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