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Inclusive Physical Education: Teaching Style + Class or Practice Format

Teaching Tips for Working with Students with Intellectual Disability

  1. Students or athletes with intellectual disabilities particularly those on the autism spectrum, may flourish in a very predictable environment. To try to make your class or practice as predictable as possible, you could start and end every class or practice with the exact same warm up and cool down.
  2. A large gym or field space can be very overwhelming for some students or athletes. To avoid this, divide the space into several unique stations for a variety of activities.
  3. Students or athletes may easily lose focus, get off task, or become fixated on one thing. To help combat these issues you may want to post a schedule where they can see it, give them a picture book of the day's activities, or have a video playing or a para-educator there to provide a constant reminder of the task at hand.
  4. Providing a schedule or book of the day's activities may also help reduce some of the anxiety regarding the unknown. 
  5. The main objective in a physical education class, or at a baseball practice, should be for the student or athlete to be active. However, sometimes a student or athlete may have to remove him or herself from an over stimulating environment and go to a safe place. In your class or at your practice, be sure their safe place involves some sort of physical activity, such as a stationary bike, a treadmill or an arm bike.
  6. Make sure the safe place is always visible to them, or that they know where to locate it.
  7. Color code! It may very helpful to get your students or athletes familiar with their color. That way, whenever working on a new skill they will know, for example, that the red ball is theirs or that they should line up behind the red line. This will help them quickly identify where they belong and what they should be doing. Color-coding can be used for equipment, stations and directional movement - follow the red cones.
  8. There may be situations in which the least restrictive environment for the child to succeed is working one-on-one with his or her paraprofessional. However, to ensure social interaction and inclusion, try to structure your class or practices so that this instance does not require the entire class period or practice.
  9. Always be prepared with an appropriate reward system for the students or athletes. Make sure the rewards do not take away from the end goal or objective. For example, the reward for trying a new activity for a certain amount of time might be getting to do an activity that they enjoy at the end of class or practice.
  10. The goals and objectives for these students or athletes should include skill learning and regular physical activity, just like their peers. 

Teaching Tips for Working with Students with Physical and Sensory Disability

  1. Every person and disability is unique.
  2. Having a disability can indicate a wide array of conditions. Do not assume you know their level of ability based only on their mobility device.
  3. Create a skills list at the beginning of the year so you know what they are currently capable of and where you want them to go.
  4. Be sure to include life skills like transferring on that skills list.
  5. Make sure that the reward system you have in place is appropriate for the disability. Physical disabilities alone do not require the same type of rewards as intellectual disabilities.
  6. Do not expect too little of your students or athletes with disabilities. Sometimes it is not ok for them to simply quit or not try something. What you expect out of your students or athletes will become what they expect out of themselves. Do not set the bar too low.
  7. Do not limit your student or athlete due to your lack of knowledge.
  8. The more active your student or athlete is, the more independent they will be throughout his or her lifespan.
  9. Try to do as little adaptation as is possible.
  10. Do not be afraid to get some students or athletes out of their wheelchair. This will help to engage muscles they do not utilize on a regular basis.
  11. Do not be afraid to challenge them. They may have never been physically challenged in their lives.
  12. Loud noises can negatively affect some students or athletes who have Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida and other conditions. Whenever possible try to avoid actions and activities that require loud noises.
  13. Be sure to give them extra time to complete a task if necessary.

For more information and resources for the community of athletes with a disability, please visit NCHPAD at