Physical Education and Implications for Students with Asperger's Syndrome

By Simpson, Cynthia G.; Gaus, Mark D. et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, July/August 2010 | Go to article overview

Physical Education and Implications for Students with Asperger's Syndrome


Simpson, Cynthia G., Gaus, Mark D., Biggs, Mary Jo Garcia, Williams, James, Teaching Exceptional Children


Throughout this article, James Williams, a young man with Asperger's syndrome (AS) shares with us his experiences taking physical education in a generalized education setting. James, who is now 23 years old, attended a large public high school in Texas. He recently graduated from college and is a teacher in a public school.

I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome when I was 9 years old. Since that time, I have received many educational and social interventions. My experiences have been numerous, some good and some bad. School was tough at times, especially when social interactions came into play. One of the toughest areas for me was physical education. Here, I was bullied, ridiculed, and forced to face up to some of my biggest fears. My experiences in physical education (PE) were mostly negative. The negativity relates to the fact that most tasks in PE were difficult for me; and when I attempted them, my teachers were unsupportive and my peers made fun of me. Things were made even more difficult for me because my parents had serious concerns about my ability to participate in a general education PE class. Most of their concerns were related to teasing, dressing out, and my physical clumsiness. Unfortunately, their concerns were well founded in that I experienced a multitude of problems related to them.

Including children with AS in general education classes, in particular, physical education classes, is no longer an uncommon occurrence. More and more children with disabilities take physical education alongside typically developing children. Many physical educators teach children with AS although they may have little knowledge about:

* The behavioral and emotional characteristics, social and peer interactions, academic and cognitive functions, and physical and motor development in children with AS in relation to the physical education setting.

* The instructional implications and recommendations for instruction that can serve as a guideline for determining individualized modifications and accommodations.

Understanding the specific characteristics of students like James can help educators create a supportive physical education environment for individuals with AS.

Understanding AS

"Once a rare diagnosis, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is now more prevalent than childhood cancer, diabetes, and Down syndrome; it is the second most common serious developmental disability after mental retardaüon and intellectual impairment" (Metzger & Simpson, 2008, p. 4). AS appears on the autism spectrum and is often called high-functioning autism. This terminology often leads to misunderstandings or misconceptions about the characteristics of children with AS. Educators often misinterpret the "highfunctioning" and fail to recognize that AS is a lifelong serious disability. Individuals With Disabilities Education Act data (2006) indicate that between 1997 and 2006, the number of children with autism in public special education programs increased from 42,517 to 224,584. That alarming increase has created a need to disseminate information about AS to educators who are involved in making instructional decisions.

The most frequently identified characteristics of AS that directly affect children in an educational setting are the impairments that directly relate to the individual's social, emotional, and adaptive functioning. Specifically, Church, Alisanski, and Amanullah (2000, p. 12) define AS as "a developmental disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and emotional relatedness and by unusual patterns of narrow interests and unique stereotyped behavior." The Diagnostic and Statistical Marmai of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR; APA, 2000) expands on the characteristics of AS and identifies the specific features of AS that may affect a student's ability to adapt to the physical education setting. Physical educators may find that "motor clumsiness, overactivity, inattention, and emotional problems such as depression" (Safran, Safran, & Ellis, 2003, p. …

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