A Mother's Untold Story: Need for Better Physical Education for Children with Disabilities
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
"I am writing to say thank you for your publication in "Developmental Neurorehabilitation." [Rimmer, J.H. & Rowland, J.L. (2007). Physical Activity for youth with disabilities: A critical need in an underserved population. J Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 11(2), 141-148.] I found it yesterday and couldn't contain my excitement as I read it. You see, I am the mother of a disabled child and have a personal mission with my son's school regarding physical education and the challenges it poses to children with disabilities.
To make a long story short, over the past three years PE has been a very frustrating part of the school day for my son. Finally, after broken glasses, welts and skinned knees I took steps to get a doctor's note to have him removed from PE. He has a VP shunt and needs to avoid head trauma, he has no depth perception so getting hit by balls instead of catching them was common, he has very low muscle tone and doesn't have the strength to compete with peers. The school was surprised that I was so determined to have other options for him and actually stated 'well now we have to do something.' The result was walking with a pedometer during PE, or putting him in a separate room to do push ups and sit ups. I only found out about the "sit up room" after the nurse called me because he hit his head on a chair and had a nice goose egg. He had been left alone. I could go on forever with examples of experiences from myself and other moms in which the fitness aspect of school is not only not working for their kids, it works against their kids having a successful day in school altogether. A child's frustration comes out as anger, anger leads to outbursts, and these are the children spending time in detention.
Last year my son moved into the middle school and I am working with the PE department to add a fitness room that will have room for 40 children to work out simultaneously. I volunteered to do the legwork and write grant requests as I recently left my career to stay home and work with my son. In searching for statistics and data I found your paper.
Until I presented the doctors note to remove him from gym, I was told repeatedly that gym was a state requirement and they had no options. The psychological effects for him daily were heartbreaking. The kids would say the type of things that little boys do when they are competitive - 'I don't want you on our team', 'you suck', and a variety of other names. He would walk out of gym into the hall crying and kick the wall, and then he would be sent to the office and get punished for walking out. Typically he would sit in the office for the balance of the day and miss the rest of his classes. So I asked if anyone ever watched the PE environment to see what was happening. The answer was no � but that they would. When they did go into the gym to observe, their findings were that the kids were great to my son and nothing was going on. But when I questioned their observation I found that it was done when the class knew they were being observed.
I requested his gym teacher attend my son's IEP meeting. His body language expressed that this meeting was a big waste of his time. He crossed his arms, leaned back in his chair and said, 'John [pseudonym] can do what every other boy does.' I wanted to jump across the table as that just confirmed his lack of awareness to his students. You see John's muscle strength doesn't allow him to push a basketball high enough in the air to even get near a basket, not to mention that I had repeatedly told him about his shunt and the need to stay out of harm's way. And this is a well funded suburban school.
I believe all schools should have fitness options for the disabled that will lead to increased intellectual functioning, increased self esteem and most importantly lessons in building a healthy lifestyle into adulthood. Frankly, these fitness centers (or at least a few pieces of equipment) should be in all schools from middle school up to get the kids 'moving' in the right direction for life.
I felt alone in my endeavors as even the special education coordinators at the schools seem uninterested in focusing on the fitness aspect of the school day. But thanks to you I now have found a wealth of data from your publication and from the Center on Health Promotion Research for Persons with Disabilities.
So you know a little about me - I recently left a successful career of 17 years with a large company. I moved across the country in various positions of responsibility with my final position being that of managing another large business with $1.2B in sales annually with 160 people under my responsibility. I have a deep passion for what I've started with my son's school and they are on board and as excited as I am."