What is Adapted Physical Education?

Adapted physical education (APE) is specially designed instruction in physical education that has been adapted or modified so that it is as appropriate for the person with a disability as it is for a person without a disability.

Federal law mandates that physical education be provided to students with disabilities and defines physical education as the development of:

  • physical and motor skills

  • fundamental motor skills and patterns (throwing, catching, walking, running, etc)

  • skills in aquatics, dance, and individual and group games and sports (including intramural and lifetime sports)  34 C.F.R. 300.39(b)(2) 

Adapted physical educators provide APE instruction and services to students with disabilities who qualify for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (commonly referred to as [IDEA]; IDEA, 2004). They also provide APE services to students who receive accommodations and services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973). They may also provide assistance to physical educators and athletic coaches making reasonable accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act ([ADA]; ADA, 1990).  

The services provided by an APE teacher include (adapted from Sherrill, 1998):

  • Planning services

  • Assessment of Individuals /Ecosystems

  • Prescription/Placement: The IEP

  • Teaching/Counseling/Coaching

  • Evaluation of Services

  • Coordination of Resources and Consulting

  • Advocacy

The APE teacher is a direct service provider, not a related service provider, because physical education for children with disabilities is a federally mandated component of special education services [U.S.C.A. 1402 (25)]. This means that physical education needs to be provided to the student with a disability as part of the special education services that child and family receive. This is contrasted with physical therapy and occupational therapy, which are related services. These therapies are provided to the child with disabilities only if he/she needs them to benefit from instruction.


This section provides answers to questions that define adapted physical education and outline key stakeholder involvement on designing adapted physical education services.