Physical Education Programming for Students with Achondroplasia

By Wagner, Tina; Sandt, Dawn | Palaestra, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Physical Education Programming for Students with Achondroplasia


Wagner, Tina, Sandt, Dawn, Palaestra


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Persons with achondroplasia (or dwarfism) are at risk for physical inactivity, reduced physical fitness, and developing heart disease. This article will provide physical educators background knowledge necessary for appropriate physical education programming for persons within the population. This article discusses the common impairments related to the disorder, research-based evidence of the population's unique response to exercise, and implications to physical education programming. Special consideration is given to school-based physical fitness testing. A student-based, long-term, and multidisciplinary approach is emphasized for the purpose of improving the effectiveness and appropriateness of such programming.

Physical Education Programming for Students with Achondroplasia

Adults with achondroplasia have an increased mortality rate from heart disease as compared to the general population (Wynn, King, Gambello, Waller, & Hecht, 2007). Physical activity contributes to physical fitness, and it lowers the risk of coronary heart disease and early mortality (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2008). Physical education during childhood and adolescence is an ideal, structured venue to establish the skills, knowledge, and disposition for lifelong healthy physical activity behaviors (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2004). However. appropriate physical education programming for students with achondroplasia may be a challenge to physical educators because of the limited research regarding physical fitness in this population. The emerging literature suggests that persons with achondroplasia will respond to exercise differentially than persons without disabilities (Takken, van Bergen, Sakkers, Helders, & Engelbert, 2007), modifications are required to facilitate student learning (Low, Knudson, & Sherrill, 1996), and programming should be individualized because of the variations within the population (Trotter, Hall, & the Committee on Genetics, 2005). The article will review the literature as it pertains to the physical activity and physical fitness of students with achondroplasia and provide recommendations for physical education programming.

Characteristics of Achondroplasia

Achondroplasia is a genetic disorder that affects growth and development of the skeleton, resulting in short stature (Trotter et al., 2005). Persons with achondroplasia have normal intelligence (Brinkmann, Schlitt, Zorowka, & Spranger, 1993). Common physical and anatomical characteristics include short fingers and toes, shortened long bones, normal trunk length, joint deformity, large head. and small thoracic volume (Haga, 2004; Sciubba et al., 2007; Takken et al., 2007; Trotter et al., 2005). Lungs of persons with achondroplasia are normally functioning, smaller than lungs of persons without achondroplasia, and appropriately sized for body mass (Stokes, Wohl, Wise, Pyeritz, & Fairclough, 1990). Other attributes, such as lordosis, spinal stenosis, hypotonia, hydrocephalus, recurrent otitis media, respiratory problems, and excessive weight may also manifest (Haga, 2004; Hoover-Fong, Schulz, McGready, Barnes, & Scott, 2008; Trotter et al., 2005).

Physical Activity and Health-Related Physical Fitness Considerations

Habitual physical activity and exercise improves health-related components of physical fitness, reduces morbidity and mortality, functional capacity, and improves mental health (American College of Sports Medicine, 2010; USDHHS, 2008). The existing research regarding physical activity and health-related physical fitness components in youth with achondroplasia are discussed in subsequent sections.

Physical Activity.

The research suggests that youth with achondroplasia (11.8 [+ or -] 3.3 years) engage in reduced levels of physical activity (Takken et al. 2007). Low levels of physical activity in persons with disability can lead to a cycle of deconditioning and the development of diseases related to sedentary behavior (Durstine, Painter, Franklin, Morgan, Pitetti, & Robert, 2000). …

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