How to Become an Adapted Physical Education Teacher

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Adapted physical education, as defined by the National Consortium for Physical Education and Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities (NCPERID), is physical education that may be adapted to meet the specific needs of children who may have delays in gross motor development. It is also the art and science of implementing and monitoring a physical education program designed specifically for those with disabilities.

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990, disabilities for which adapted physical education would be appropriate include:

  • Visual impairment/blindness
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Mental retardation
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Specific learning disability
  • Other health impairment
  • Autism
  • Serious emotional disturbance
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Hearing impairment
  • Deafness

Federal law mandates that physical education be available to all students, including those with disabilities. Similar to general physical education, adapted physical education focuses on the development of:

  • Physical and motor skills
  • Fundamental motor skills and patterns (e.g., catching, walking, running, throwing, etc.)
  • Skills in dance, individual and group games and sports, and aquatics


Individualized Education Programs in Physical Education

Qualified personnel who are able to gather assessment data and provide physical education instruction for children with developmental delays or disabilities perform adapted physical education. Adapted physical education teachers oversee an individualized education program (IEP) and ensure that instruction is being conducted in a least-restrictive environment. Developing an IEP program in this context involves adapting or modifying physical education curriculum and instruction to cater to the unique needs and abilities of each child. This means that every individual student with developmental delays or disabilities in a physical education environment can have an individualized education program designed specifically for them.

Adapted physical education may be performed in a general physical education setting, a separate class setting with peers or assistants, or in a one-on-one setting with just the student and the instructor.

In this context, individualized education programs are implemented with the goal of helping disabled or developmentally delayed students enjoy a PE experience similar to that which is made available to their typically developing peers.

The Adapted Physical Education Teacher

Adapted physical education teachers are PE teachers that are trained to evaluate and assess motor competency, physical fitness, play, recreation, leisure, and sports skills. Adapted physical education teachers are then capable of developing and implementing an IEP program based on the findings of their assessment.

Adapted physical education teachers must have knowledge and competencies in the following:

  • Developmental teaching methods in physical and motor fitness, fundamental motor skills, and skills in individual sports and other activities, as well as group sports and games
  • Knowledge of motor control for teaching physical education to individuals with disabilities
  • Knowledge of developmental sequences and motor characteristics associated with a number of disabilities
  • Skills in a number of physical education techniques and procedures for developing individualized education programs in PE

As direct service providers, adapted physical education teachers provide hands-on teaching. They serve as assessment specialists who provide comprehensive motor assessments and make specific program recommendations. Their work also involves consulting with physical education and special education staff, serving as a student and parent advocate, and serving as a program coordinator who is able to develop curricular materials and monitor progress of their students’ IEPs.

Adapted physical education teachers are NOT occupational therapists (OT), as OTs are trained to address skills associated with activities of daily living, work activities, and play and leisure activities. OTs provide their services through a physician’s prescriptions to address medical conditions, as opposed to working with students in a physical education environment.

Adapted physical education teachers are also NOT physical therapists (PT), as PTs are trained to provide services that address mobility assistance, range of motion, gait therapy, and other interventions. PTs also provide their services through a physician’s prescriptions to address medical conditions, as opposed to working with students in a physical education environment.

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National Standards and Certification for Adapted Physical Education Teachers

Although providing physical education for children with disabilities has been addressed by the federal government, it was left up to the state educational agencies to interpret the term “qualified professionals” when speaking of individuals responsible for providing adapted physical education. However, just 14 states have a specific endorsement or certification in adapted physical education, including California , New York, and Connecticut. The other 36 states have yet to address the qualifications of an adapted physical education teacher.

In response to this deficit in adapted physical education standards, the National Consortium for Physical Education and Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities developed national standards for physical educators, as well as the Adapted Physical Education National Standards (APENS) national certification examination designed to measure knowledge of the standards.

The NCPERID recognizes the following, 15 standards of specialized knowledge:

  • Human development
  • Motor behavior
  • Exercise science
  • Measurement and evaluation
  • History and philosophy
  • Unique attributes of learners
  • Curriculum theory and development
  • Assessment
  • Instructional design and planning
  • Teaching
  • Consultation and staff development
  • Student and program evaluation
  • Continuing education
  • Ethics
  • Communication

The APENS examination was developed to ensure that adapted physical education teachers meet specific standards for educating children with disabilities and that these standards are uniform from one state to the next.

To be eligible to sit for the APENS examination, candidates must:

  • Possess a bachelor’s degree with a major in physical education (or kinesiology, sport science, etc.)
  • Possess a valid and current teaching certificate
  • Complete a 12-credit hour course in Adapted Physical Education
  • Show proof of the completion of at least 200 hours of documented experienced providing physical education instruction to individuals with disabilities

The APENS examination consists of 100 multiple-choice questions, and test takers are given 3 hours to complete the examination.

Individuals who pass the APENS examination are certified by the NCPERID for a period of 7 years and are permitted to use the initial CAPE (Certified Adapted Physical Educator) after their name.

Adapted Physical Education for Students with Visual Impairments or Blindness

A 2012 report published by the National Federation of the Blind revealed that among American students aged 4 – 20 (Pre-K through 12th grade and beyond), some 660,000 were found to have a visual disability. Of these, only about 60,000 received reading accommodations in the form of Braille, large print or audio formatted textbooks and other materials as reported by state departments of education, residential schools, rehabilitation programs and disability programs. This represents the student population that has the greatest need for accommodations within adapted physical education programs.

In addition to language in the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires schools to provide well-lit gymnasiums to accommodate students with some degree of visual impairment, those with severe visual impairments and full blindness are now being served in the physical education environment better than ever before.

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Special accommodations in adapted physical education for the blind and vision impaired can include:

  • Maintaining verbal contact to offer reassurance and to give the visually impaired student a reference in helping them determine their location
  • Providing auditory queues so the visually impaired student can better identify the location of a goal or other object
  • Holding hands or joining sighted and vision impaired participants by having each hold an end of a piece of material, allowing the sighted participant to guide the visually impaired student
  • Limiting play space to allow visually impaired children to become more involved in game play while still keeping it fun for un-impaired children
  • Slowing the action of game play by using a balloon rather than a ball
  • Using textured boundaries (rugs, rubber mats, etc) so that areas of game play can be easily distinguished from out-of-bounds areas when touched or walked upon
  • Familiarizing the vision-impaired student with the environment before game play to identify the location of boundaries and potential hazards
  • Working up to more difficult tasks and exercises by gradually increasing the distance between players and the speed of game play
  • Using a bell in games of tag and other pursuit games so the player that is being pursued can be easily identified by sound
  • Repetitive touching (brush contact) of the hand/wrist/forearm in order to provide tactile queues as to the direction of motion when running


Resources for Adapted Physical Education Teachers