Understanding How Specific Learning Disabilities Can Affect a Child in Physical Education

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There’s More than Just Readin’ and Writin’

Many of us probably think that students with learning disabilities only have problems in writing, reading, mathematics, or other academic subject areas. However, this is not true at all. Students who have learning disabilities also find themselves having difficulty in the non-academic areas, especially physical education. How exactly can specific learning disabilities affect a child in physical education?

Research suggests that many students with learning disabilities have a lower self-concept about themselves as well as lower self-esteem. A low self-concept would not only affect students’ academic performance, but performance in other areas. This may cause students to try to blend in the background and not participate as they should. Some students also have anxiety about performing in front of other students.

Physical education also requires a lot of memorizing information. Each sport or activity has a different set of rules that students need to remember. For students with learning disabilities, they have a hard time memorizing and remembering information. Their performance in physical education may be impacted due to the fact that they just cannot remember how the games are played. These students may rather sit on the sidelines and watch others play because they don’t remember how to play at all.

Students with learning disabilities may also not like participating in group activities. Many of these students are used to small groups when it comes to instruction but, in physical education class, they must participate with a large group. Special education provides small group instruction for students with learning disabilities in their academic courses as specified by their IEP, but when it comes to physical education for students with learning disabilities, no modifications are made.

How Can Teachers Help?

One way to help students with learning disabilities perform better in physical education is to frequently review the rules of particular sports or games. The more often the rules are reviewed, the more likely the students will remember the information.

The learning support teacher should also keep an open line of communication with the physical education teachers. Talk with the physical education teacher ahead of time to find out what the next activities will be so you can review them with the students ahead of time. Maybe there are videos that show how the games or sports are played. It may also be a good idea to play the game in a small setting first so that the students are comfortable with it before they have to do it with a large group.

Some students really do not like performing in front of other students. Teachers need to try to put the students at ease. Assure the students that they are not the only ones who do not like performing in a large group. Also, tell the students that it is a requirement to pass physical education, so they need put forward their best effort and do the best that they possibly can.

By putting the above-mentioned strategies in place, students with learning disabilities should have an easier time participating in physical education. These strategies will serve the students well in other non-academic classes, too, such as electives.


  • Author’s own experience