Adaptive Physical Education (APE)

Updated 8/2/18

Standard 3.13: Once a child is identified as having a disability and is determined to be eligible for special education by the IEP team; specific physical education services must be identified after considering a full continuum of program options. APE is one program option, which is listed as a designated instruction and service in the California code of Regulations (5CCR3051) and is therefore subject to the following requirements:

(a) General Provisions.
(l) Designated instruction and services may be provided to individuals or to small groups in a specialized area of educational need, and throughout the full continuum of educational settings.
(2) Designated instruction and service, when needed as determined by the individualized education program, shall include the frequency and duration of service.
(3) All entities and individuals providing designated instruction and services shall be qualified. (Refer to 5 CCR sec. 3051.5 for statute regarding credential requirement)

One of the conditions states must meet, in order to receive federal funding for special education, is to provide for education in the least restrictive environment. This is defined, in general, as:

To the maximum extend appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and service cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
(20 U.S.C. sec.1412 (a)(5).)

Physical Education Requirements in California
California has a mandatory requirement for student participation in physical education. This requirement applies to students with special needs, as well as students without special needs. The California requirements are:
Elementary (grades 1 through 6) = 200 minutes in 10 day
Secondary (grades 7 through 12)= 400 minutes in 10 days

34 CFR 300.108 (a) states that public agencies in the State must comply with the provision that 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) Each child with a disability must be afforded the opportunity to participate in the regular physical education program available to non-disabled 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.

The comments to IDEA Regulations (2006) Physical education (Sec. 300.108) clarify that the intent of Congress was to ensure equal rights for children with disabilities. As stated in 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.

Every student, including a student with disabilities, must participate in the minutes of physical education instruction required by statute. The student's time with the adapted physical education teacher is usually only a portion of this required time. Instruction for the remaining required physical education time is provided in a less restrictive environment which may include consultation from the adapted physical education teacher. Collaborative consultation is a professional interaction process that is effectively utilized within all of these programs to help meet the needs of the student.

Some Applications Include:
Children, who attend high school, have several types of physical education classes available to them. A student with a learning disability, who has difficulty participating in team sports, may be successful in a general physical education program of aerobics or weight training. Given the lifetime value of these activities, dismissal from adapted physical education may be appropriate. Or, if the student has specific needs, s/he may participate in a general physical education class for just a semester and then may return to one or more of the other physical education program options.

Children, who attend middle or elementary school, may engage in certain sports in a general physical education setting and may or may not simultaneously receive adapted Physical Education. Other children with disabilities may need a collaborative Adapted Physical Education program to meet their specific needs as the Adapted Physical Education Specialist is instrumental in helping the student attain movement skills.

Content Standards for Physical Education
Found at:

The California Physical Education Model Content Standards assist schools in establishing learning goals and objectives for physical education at each grade level.
Highlights of the Elementary Standards:
Standard 1: Students demonstrate the motor skills and movement patterns needed to perform a variety of physical activities.
Standard 2: Students demonstrate knowledge of movement concepts, principles, and strategies that apply to learning and performance of physical activities.
Standard 3: Students assess and maintain a level of physical fitness to improve health and performance.
Standard 4: Students demonstrate knowledge of physical fitness concepts, principles, and strategies to improve health and performance.
Standard 5: Students demonstrate and utilize knowledge of psychological and sociological concepts, principles, and strategies that apply to the learning and performance of physical activity.

Highlights of the Secondary Standards:
Standard 1: Students demonstrate knowledge of and competency in motor skills, movement patterns, and strategies needed to perform a variety of physical activities.
Standard 2: Students achieve a level of physical fitness for health and performance while demonstrating knowledge of fitness concepts, principles, and strategies.
Standard 3: Students demonstrate knowledge of psychological and sociological concepts, principles, and strategies that apply to the learning and performance of physical activity.

Continuum of Participation in Physical Education

General Physical Education:

Physical education that addresses the core curricular standards for students without disabilities. The majority of students with special education needs can be mainstreamed into general education PE classes.

General Physical Education with Accommodations:

General Accommodations might include:
Equipment: larger/lighter bat, use of Velcro, larger or lowered goal/target, marking positions on the playing field, scoops for catch;
Time: vary the tempo, slow the activity pace, lengthen/shorten the time;
Rules, Prompts, Cues: demonstrate or model activity, assign a partner, disregard time limits, oral prompts, more space between students, eliminate outs/strike-outs, allow ball to remain stationary, allow batter to sit in chair, place student with a disability near the teacher.

General Physical Education with Modifications:

Modification of the general physical education program to allow participation by the student with disabilities. Some typical modifications include:
1. Placement or role adjustment for safety or ability level (Pitcher vs. outfielder)
2. Shortened duration of participation, spacing rest intervals, or pacing of activity.
3. Adaptation of the skill (bounce and catch instead of dribble a basketball)
4. Use of substitutions ( a "pinch" hitter or runner, or an assistant goalie)
5. Modification of equipment or facility (use of brightly colored balls or auditory cues, lower nets, closer targets, lightweight objects, assistive devices.
6. Modification of the rules ( 5 strikes, closer Tees, 4 outfielders)
7. Additional support or supervision (peer buddy or adult support)

Specialized Instruction in Physical Education:
Students who cannot participate meaningfully in a general or modified physical education program may participate in specially designed activities with their special education class. These activities address their unique needs and level of ability while also addressing the core curriculum standards. These may be indoor or outdoor games and activities that develop strength, stamina, coordination and recreation skills. An adapted physical education specialist may consult with the classroom staff in developing activities that address curricular standards and individual needs.

Adapted Physical Education:
Students who are precluded from participating in general, modified, or specialized physical education due to their unique needs may receive adapted physical education services from a credentialed APE specialist. Note that APE services rarely meet the minimum number of minutes required for PE in California, and must be supplemented with other physical activities in the classroom to meet the 200/400 minutes required every 10 days.
Before a student is referred for gross motor skill assessment, the student must be determined to be eligible for special education and have exhausted the ability to modify the general or special education physical education program. All attempted modifications in the general or special education physical education program must be documented.

5 CCR sec. 3051.5(a) Adapted physical education is for individuals with exceptional needs who require developmental or corrective instruction and who are precluded from participation in the activities of the general physical education program, modified general physical education program, or in a specially designed physical education program in a special class. Consultative services may be provided to pupils, parents, teachers, or other school personnel for the purpose of identifying supplementary aids and services or modifications necessary for successful participation in the regular physical education program or specially designed physical education programs.

Assessment and Eligibility for Adapted Physical Education
In addition to formalized tests, teacher observations, and interviews with educators and family members who know the student, teacher made tests, and review of student records should be utilized. Although not exhaustive, some of the formal assessments may include: Adapted Physical Education Scale, Analysis of Sensory Behavior Inventory, Basic Motor Ability Test, and Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency. Specific testing methods and the assessment process are at the discretion of the assessor.

Based on the student's function in the areas of physical and motor fitness, fundamental motor skills and patterns, and skills in aquatics, dance and individual and group games and sports, the following criteria must be considered to determine if the student's needs require the expertise of the specialist:

  • There is a significant limitation in at least one performance area listed above.
  • The problem adversely affects the student's ability to benefit from his/her educational program.
  • The potential for student improvement over time through intervention appears likely
  • The unique expertise of the APE specialist is required to meet the student's identified needs or to assist the team in providing educational benefit.

Assessment for APE requires an assessment plan, a report of the assessment completed to document present level of performance and specific need, and presentation at an IEP meeting within 60 days of receipt of the signed assessment plan. Goals (and objectives if required) must address California Content Standards for Physical Education.

Adapted Physical Education Assessments should include:

  • The use of a variety of procedures, including observation and standardized testing measures,
  • The use of tests that are valid, technically sound and non-discriminatory, that address educational need, not just disability,
  • Tests that are administered in the child's primary language,
  • Documentation if non-standard administrations are used,
  • An evaluation report that contains all the required information:
    1. Whether the pupil may need related services
    2. The relevant behavior noted during the observation
    3. Relationship of the students behavior to his physical functioning
    4. Educationally relevant health, developmental and medical findings
    5. The need for specialized materials or equipment for students with low incidence disabilities.

Assessment and Returning to Regular Physical Education Program or Specially Designed Physical Education Programs
Based on the student's function in the areas of physical and motor fitness, fundamental motor skills and patterns, and skills in aquatics, dance and individual and group games and sports, the following criteria should be considered to determine if the student is ready to participate in less restrictive physical education as the student's needs no longer require the direct expertise of the specialist:

  • The expected intervention outcomes have been met and no additional outcomes are appropriate.
  • The potential for further significant change as a result of intervention appears unlikely.
  • The identified limitation no longer requires the unique expertise of the APE Specialist.
  • The identified limitation can be addressed by participation in regular physical education program or specially designed physical education programs with consultation from the APE Specialist.
  • The identified limitation ceases to be educationally relevant.
  • APE is no longer required due to a change in medical/physical/psychological/social status.

For specific information on APE guidelines provided by the California Department of Education, Special Education Division, please click on the link below to access: ADAPTED PHYSICAL EDUCATION GUIDELINES IN CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS


Click here to download and print "Procedures Guide-Adaptive Physical Education (APE)