Parents, Navigate Adapted Physical Education, IEPs, and 504 Plans


  • Physical Education (PE) can be adapted in four main ways to support students with disabilities.
  • Federal and state law protects a student with disability’s rights to access (be taught) PE. Adapted PE can be provided as a special education service in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). It can also be included in a Section 504 plan.
  • Changes in WA State regulations mean that more teachers will qualify to design and teach Adapted Physical Education. These regulations are in effect as of May 1, 2024.
  • The Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) quoted in this article gives more information about Adaptive PE and how it fits into special education in WA State. Download or read Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education.

Full article

Physical Education (PE) is part of school for all students and may be particularly important for your student with a disability. What are the ways in which PE (general curriculum or Adapted PE) can improve their quality of life, now and into their adult years? This short list may give you ideas for your student’s IEP or 504 plan, and to discuss with your student for them to bring to a meeting with the IEP/504 team.

Classes teach students to care for their body and develop physical, mental, and emotional skills that include:

  • Motor skills (training to use muscles for a specific task, such as swinging a baseball bat to hit a ball, or running very hard in a race)
  • Physical fitness (keeping healthy and strong by exercising the body)
  • Social-emotional skills, teamwork, social play skills
  • Skills for athletics like team sports like soccer or basketball or individual athletics like gymnastics or dance
  • Skills for recreation like biking, swimming, hiking, throwing frisbees,

How Adapted PE works:

Access or accessible means how easy it is to do, to get, or understand something.

There are four main areas where adjusting or changing the general PE curriculum (school courses) may help students with disabilities access PE. Some of these changes will benefit ALL students using the general PE curriculum.

  • The physical space can be adjusted to work well for all students:
  • The size of the space and the number of other students can affect how accessible the PE class is for some students
  • Lighting, sound, and what someone can see may all affect comfort in a class.. Making thoughtful changes to these things can make a PE class more accessible.
  • Teaching: the teacher gathers information about individual students to ensure they use teaching methods accessible to everyone. This might mean spoken instructions, movements, pictures, written words, showing how to do something, or videos.
  • Equipment: depending on a student’s disability, some students might need PE equipment to move more slowly, be bigger or smaller, more tactile (easier to feel), be easier to see, and similar changes.
  • Rules: to make sure PE is inclusive, rules of the game may need to be added or taken away.

The information-gathering process above is a good place for you and your student to provide information about your student’s supports such as doctors, therapists, and interests outside of school that might be supported by Adapted PE. This information can be offered to the entire IEP/504 team, to give a well-rounded view of your student. You might want to review PAVE’s articles for students in the References section, below. It’s a good start for your student to self-advocate and practice self-direction.

Examples of Adapted PE

The point of Adapted PE is to change the general PE curriculum so that it is accessible for all students based on their individual strengths and needs. How it looks varies a lot depending on the student, but here are a few examples of Adapted PE in action:

  • A third grader with autism spectrum disorder uses a play script on her communication device to invite other students to play tag with her.
  • A high-school senior with Down syndrome is introduced to adult recreation opportunities in his community so he can continue building healthy habits beyond graduation.
  • A seventh grader with Cerebral Palsy attends general PE class. The Adapted PE teacher, general PE teacher, and the physical therapist collaborate to create an exercise plan to strengthen the student’s legs while using their gait trainer (walker).

Adapted Physical Education teachers are trained to make changes to the general education PE curriculum to make it accessible to students with disabilities.

IEPs can include Adapted PE as a service

Eligibility for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) uses an evaluation. The process helps to decide whether a student has a disability, whether the disability has a significant impact on (really affects) learning, and whether the student needs Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) and/or related services to access a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). FAPE is the right of any student, ages 3-21, who is eligible for school-based services delivered through an IEP.

If a student’s access to PE really affects learning and the student needs the school’s PE course to be individualized, then Adapted PE can be given as an IEP service. IEP teams discuss how Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is delivered for each individual student.

When Adapted PE is part of the IEP, there is a range of options for placement. A student might be in a general PE class, with or without accommodations. Additional aids, services, and modifications may be added depending on what the student needs. Get more details in the Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education.

This is a great opportunity for a student to share their goals and needs about physical activities with their IEP team. The topic might be a way to interest your student in IEP meetings even before the required age for planning their life after high school. See the Resources section below for information about students attending or leading their IEP team.

Rules changed and removed some difficulties with getting Adapted PE

Until spring of 2024, Adapted PE was not recognized as a separate subject matter area or specialty that the state would endorse (add to the training listed on a teacher’s professional certificate). This meant a shortage of teachers who could design Adapted PE for students. It made it difficult for some students with disability in Washington State to get SDI in physical education.

As of May 1, 2024, qualifying[1] teachers in Washington State can be trained for and receive a specialty endorsement in Adapted Physical Education. The endorsement shows the teacher has specific skills and knowledge in both PE Learning Standards and special education competencies. As more teachers are taught this specialty, it will be easier to find teachers with Adapted PE training in Washington State.

The OSPI Updated Guidance says that in addition to teachers with an Adapted PE endorsement, SDI for physical education can be provided by “any other appropriately qualified special education endorsed teacher, or an “appropriately qualified Educational Staff Associate (ESA) such as an Occupational Therapist (OT) or a Physical Therapist (PT).”


  • Physical Education (PE) is an important part of school. Students with disabilities have the right to be taught physical education.
  • Adapted Physical Education (APE) is when the general PE curriculum is changed or adjusted to accommodate the individualized needs of a student with disability.
  • Adapted PE can be included in an Individualized Education Plan or a Section 504 plan.
  • If a student needs Adapted PE, it’s important to include someone on the IEP team who is qualified to design individualized adapted PE, as well as the teacher or other school personnel who will be teaching the student.
  • Only certain qualified education professionals can design and supervise other educators and school staff teaching Adapted PE. Changes in WA State rules in 2024 allow more education professionals to qualify in Adapted PE.


Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education  (WA State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI))

Attention Students: Lead your own IEP meetings and take charge of your future (PAVE)

Students: Get Ready to Participate in Your IEP Meeting with a Handout for the Team (PAVE)

Who’s Who on the IEP Team (PAVE)

Student Rights, IEP, Section 504 and More (PAVE)

A previous version of this article was based on information provided by two experts in the field of Adapted Physical Education, Toni Bader, and Lauren Wood, who are Adapted Physical Education teachers in the Seattle area:

  • Toni Bader, M.Ed., CAPE – SHAPE Washington, Adapted Physical Education, Seattle Public Schools (
  • Lauren Wood, NBCT, Adapted Physical Education Teacher, Highline Public Schools, and SHAPE Washington Board Member (

[1] “Certificated teachers who hold any special education endorsement or a Health/Fitness endorsement are eligible to add the APE specialty endorsement to their certificate”  –OSPI Updated Guidance