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Professional Roles in Adapted Physical Activity

This is an excerpt from Adapted Physical Activity Across the Life Span by Carol Ann Leitschuh & Marquell Johnson.

Professionals in the Schools

School settings discussed in this text are to be understood as preschool and kindergarten through the 12th grade (preK-12). Table 2.2 lists the professions present in a school district. Note the distinctions between GPE, APE and APA:

  • GPE denotes the education program established in that school district for a grade level.
  • APE is the physical education curriculum adapted for students with disabilities when they meet criteria for services in their state.
  • APA includes adapted physical education and other activities such as sports where qualified athletes with disabilities participate.

When considering service delivery within the educational setting, the terms direct and indirect used in the tables designate roles with the population served in APE and APA (table 2.2).

  • Direct: The professional is meeting with the student face to face in the activity, such as in teaching, observing, and assessing.
  • Indirect: The professional’s work is in the facilitation of APE for a student, such as individualized education program (IEP) meeting collaborations and writing evaluations, or in collaboration on APA.

Table 2.2 Education-Based Occupations and APA Roles in Schools

The types of services that students with disabilities receive in the educational setting are determined by the IEP. This is the written goals created for the student’s education and is based on extensive interdisciplinary assessments in consultation with the student’s parents or caregivers.

Education administrators are experts on the management of the whole school. As such they are very important to the academic program in physical education. They or their representative are required by law to attend the IEP meetings. General physical educators and adapted physical educators need their support in running programs and having essentials like equipment, well-trained paraprofessionals or volunteers, and cooperative colleagues. Parents often seek administrators to uphold their concerns about their child’s education. If that includes the physical education program participation, then the administrator needs all the facts from the content expert like the GPE and APE with an open line of communication to solve problems.

School psychologists are invaluable to ascertaining a clear picture of the students’ cognitive, social, and emotional abilities and how to support educational success. In many cases they can observe a child struggling in a physical activity class to provide input for interventions. Their work is data driven in that the selection of an intervention is based on what behavior is getting in the way of student learning and what will lead to success in the classroom. It takes time to try interventions, check for positive trends in the resolution of inappropriate behavior, and potentially readjust goals. School psychologists are also adept at conferring with parents.

Recreation therapists are employed in the schools, in the community, and in health care (table 2.1). In schools, they are essential in the assessment of students that leads to IEP goals in high school for the development of postgraduation leisure skills in physical activity. Here, the recreation therapist considers the desires of the student and their family and the resources for recreation in the community. Students no longer spend time working on balance per se in their PE or APE classes but on activities that are age appropriate for leisure time. When the IEP plan is developed in high school, the training goes out in the community as the naturally occurring environment for the activity. If a student wants to learn to bowl in their community that has bowling and an accessible bowling alley, training takes place in that setting and includes entering the building, obtaining shoes for the game, and learning the rules of the game, as well as skills for ball control and social skills for the setting and any team play.

Adapted physical education teachers in some districts work strictly in a consultation capacity whereby they assess and, in their evaluation, make recommendations for the student’s IEP in physical education whether in GPE or APE. They then train staff, including in some cases the special education teacher, to carry out the IEP plan for APE or GPE. In other districts, they work directly with students in their APE program. In some cases, they both consult and work directly with the students.

GPE teachers have often had some courses in working with students with disabilities, while others have had none. They are experts in the curriculum of the more typically developing child from grade school through high school depending on their license and their state’s requirements for teaching. Many students with disabilities are in inclusive (mainstreamed) classes because of the placement decisions of the IEP team. This team includes the parent, who must give permission for this placement. The child may be in the GPE with consultation from the APE for either the whole program or just certain activities. The GPE teacher is also used to working with occupational therapists (OTs) and physical therapists (PTs) in their classrooms. The GPE teacher has a lot of children to work with in class, and consulting APE personnel make every effort to increase participation of the identified children and increase the teacher’s clarity for inclusion. Referencing the student’s IEP is important for both GPE and APE teachers, but the day-to-day activity isn’t to teach to the IEP. The student needs to be involved in the age-appropriate activity of their grade as specified in the IEP. More information on instructional strategies is found in chapter 5.

Special education teachers and general education teachers are invaluable resources for an APE and GPE teacher regarding the behavioral IEP of a student with a disability and its implementation in their classroom—be it the gymnasium or on a community outing—or in specific units such as swimming or bowling. The special education teachers often have specific areas of teaching expertise such in autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, and sensory impairments.

Paraprofessionals are assigned to a student with a disability to assist in the educational day. See table 2.2 and the relationship to APE. According to Paula Scraba, OFS, PhD, CAPE, the work of a paraprofessional in the schools is usually one to one with students with disabilities with any background and at least an associate of arts degree.

But I know a number of professionals in our field that did not get a job teaching right away and came into APE as a paraprofessional. . . . That is how I started a Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis, and by Christmas I was the classroom teacher, and by the end of the school year, Assistant Principal for the Deaf/Blind Program.

Scraba, personal communication, July 7, 2021.

Coaches and intramural sports directors can engage the athlete with a disability who qualifies to play on an integrated team without adaptations, participates in a segregated program such as Special Olympics, or participates in a mainstreamed program with adaptations. A popular video circulating among physical educators is an example of coaching that stunned a high school, the athlete, and his classmates. A graduating senior who was on the autism spectrum had spent his high school years managing the basketball team and participated in every practice with the team over the years. On the last game of his high school career with the team ahead, the coach sent him into the game for the last few minutes. He entered the game, got the ball, and missed the basket. Then he got the ball again and hit a three-pointer! The crowd went wild! He then shot two more three-pointers. Although his team won by a comfortable margin, his buzzer beater felt like a game winner, and the crowd and all the players were sent into a frenzy.

Athletic trainers treat the athlete with disabilities when injured in a sport endeavor. In universities, select students majoring in athletic training have gone on to do their master’s thesis with coursework in disability sport.

After-school program directors and staff are vital in modeling and promoting the acceptance of children with disabilities with their nondisabled age peers, and in creating the fun in being physically active after a long academic school day. These professionals know the students, their interests, their families, and their rhythm of a day. Over time, they are in a good position to know when it is a good day and when it is tough for the student, adjusting activity accordingly.

More Excerpts From Adapted Physical Activity Across the Life Span