Difficulties in Physical Education Class for Kids on the Spectrum

"My child (high functioning) absolutely hates gym class. He has a lot of difficulty keeping up with the others and says the teacher yells at him a lot. Is this a fairly normal thing for such children? Do you have any suggestions on how I can help him with gym class activities?"

Physical education classes are usually a nightmare for a youngster with ASD level 1, or High-Functioning Autism (HFA). Many have awkward gaits and can’t run very fast. Their poor motor coordination means they have great difficulty throwing or catching balls, balancing themselves, or mastering certain movements (e.g., hopping, skipping, jumping, etc.).

Besides being unable to perform many activities required in gym class, some HFA kids may be overwhelmed by the smell (i.e., stink) of the locker room. The coach's high-pitched whistle and the screaming in the swimming pool may be painful to the child’s ears. Others can’t stand to take showers due to tactile sensitivities.

Many of these kids are unable to button themselves or tie their shoelaces without help. So, getting out of their regular school clothes and into their gym gear -- and then back into school clothes again after gym -- can be a real time-consuming chore. Many HFA children are late for gym class -- and the next class after gym -- for this very reason.

Children on the spectrum often have trouble following a gym teacher's spoken directions, especially if there is more than one part to them (e.g., "Choose a partner, line up against the wall, and stand arm’s length apart"). They may be unable to imitate the teacher's motor activity, especially if it is modeled as a mirror image.

Competitive sports often cause trouble too, because HFA kids can be extremely rule-oriented. They may have rigid ideas about how a game should be played and be unable to change course midstream. They may have a temper tantrum if they are not first at bat, or if their team loses.

Many autistic kids do not like to “roughhouse.” They may have fears of playground equipment, prefer sedentary activities, or have a strong desire to play alone (e.g., one 5-year-old with AS reportedly spent all day quietly lining up his toy cars to match the sequence in his dad's car pool line at school). Bottom line: it can be hard for moms and dads to get their ASD kids to exercise.

In addition, autistic children with a high pain-tolerance can be injured in sports and not even report it to school staff. There have been many reports of these kids with broken arms and legs who went on playing the game.

For all these reasons, moms and dads may want to consider requesting adapted physical education for their child. These are special classes with activities appropriate for their youngster's special needs. Some schools will allow the mother or father to substitute participation in outside activities (e.g., bowling) for attendance in gym classes.

Some moms and dads have hired physical therapists to work with their HFA kids individually at home. Many of these parents report that a little "rough house" helps their youngster not only physically – but also socially. Also, parents can purchase special equipment for "proprioception training" over the Internet.

After-school programs at the YMCA or individual sports (e.g., karate, swimming, etc.) are good choices for young people on the autism spectrum. Another technique is to have your youngster do physical chores such as mowing the grass, racking leaves, running out to the mailbox to fetch the mail, etc. – anything that gets the child moving physically.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


o    Anonymous said… Good suggestions on here. Hopefully one of them will work for your son. My son liked to play at gym but hated changing into gym uniform. As a result he did not have a good grade. I don't understand why children should be obligated to change into clothing they don't feel comfortable in. I would discuss these items with the PE teacher and also with his IEP counselor and come up with a solution.
o    Anonymous said… I had to have my aspie pulled out of gym class. It was too loud, unorganized, and she kept having meltdowns.
o    Anonymous said… I talked with my child about "yelling." Sometimes the acoustics in the gym sound louder than other classrooms. I also explained that a P.E. teacher might need to talk louder because the classroom is larger. In our old school two classes were combined. I explained that the teacher might not be necessarily "yelling" to be mean but instead the teacher needed to talk louder to compensate for the larger class size. This helped tremendously! P.E. teacher's also tend to have voices that carry. A conversation about differences in voice is also helpful. Take your child outside and have them play a game where they are allowed to shout and use quiet voices. This helps tremendously in demonstrating the differences between voice modulation. If it's still too difficult you may need to help your child work on this in P.T. Good luck!
o    Anonymous said… My son also had issues in gym class but once we taught him that its okay for him to stop and take a break when he felt he needed it things been going a lot smoother
o    Anonymous said… My son also had issues in gym class. We always knew the days he had gym class. He was always sick in the morning. There were also issues with bullying. I removed him from the public school and placed him in a small school that focuses on Autism/Aspergers. He loves going to school and there are no bullies.
o    Anonymous said… my son had adaptive pe they arent obligated to change clothes and they are smaller classes and teacher helps with moter skills.
o    Anonymous said… My son hated it because he was never chosen for a team Or as a partner for anything! Kids are so cruel! I guess you can blame the ignorant parents
o    Anonymous said… My son hated it when he was younger, but at 12 is now doing well. His biggest problems are coordination and "absolutely cannot lose" attitude. It makes him very upset when he can't do as well as he wants to and even worse when someone else causes him to lose because they don't give it their all (the girls mostly). Thankfully his teachers all work with him and get him through it.
o    Anonymous said… My son hated it when he was younger, but at 12 is now doing well. His biggest problems are coordination and "absolutely cannot lose" attitude. It makes him very upset when he can't do as well as he wants to and even worse when someone else causes him to lose because they don't give it their all (the girls mostly). Thankfully his teachers all work with him and get him through it.
o    Anonymous said… My son hates Gym class but has come a long way. He now is used to the noises in the Gym and has progressed to actually joining in. It's a plus that the GYm Teacher is the Special Ed/Resource Teacher responsible for coodrinating his IEP/etc...
o    Anonymous said… Our gym teacher allows kids who do not wish to participate in whatever game they are playing to walk laps around the gym or track. My son does a lot of walking...
o    Anonymous said… Painfully normal in our household.
o    Anonymous said… Put it in an IEP that he doesn't have to do it.
o    Anonymous said… School insisted my son do adaptive phys Ed in addition to regular p. e. he hated that and after seeing that class, I pulled him out. Regular phys Ed is not his favorite. Between bad vision, bad coordination he would rather work on the computer. He has been attending a non school adaptive PE class that he likes better.
o    Anonymous said… We have active kids fit at the YMCA. They do all kinds of different things for about 45 minutes. They start off telling jokes. The classes aren't that big and their is no pressure. My oldest loves it and the younger one not so much because he would rather be playing video games. It has helped a lot over time. Both can do jumping jacks now and both are doing better in gym!
o    Anonymous said… Yelling at Aspies is outright stupid. IMHO it might be best to get your son excluded frm that nonsense. You cant educate autism away, teachers who think aln that line are hopeless, better avoid them.
o    Anonymous said… You could ask for adaptive PE.
•    Anonymous said... I guess we are lucky, our son is in something called adapted PE as part of his IEP at his school. He has specific goals that address balance, gait etc. It has made such a difference.
•    Anonymous said... If schools take on children with Aspergers, its should be a duty for all teachers to know something about how to deal with our youngsters. Ignorance is no longer acceptable. It is up to administration to let all teachers know of ANY special need a child has (by way of indicator on the register), and for teachers to obtain information on to help that child in their particular class.
•    Anonymous said... I've gone into school and asked for the pe teacher to be told more about my sons problems.dont assume they all know how to deal with aspergers.they don't!
•    Anonymous said... Mine has problems with balance etc so makes it stressful for him ,he's waiting to see a occupational therapist to see what problems are there and what can be done to help,he has problems doing simple things like running jumping and he's scared of unfamiliar stairs and hates escalators etc his paediatrician says its typical of children with aspergers wish I had got help sooner
•    Anonymous said... My son had to be taken out of gym because he couldn't handle the noise. He does a "paper" to get his grade. We thought it was just because he suffers from migraines, but after getting his diagnosis of Aspergers it's all starting to make sense!
•    Anonymous said... My son hates PE class. School even out him in an adaptive PE class and he hated that.
•    Anonymous said... Gym class is mostly unstructured. That is what drives my son nuts. Also, unless the teacher is really watching, students will "bend" the rules which is also annoying and confusing to an Aspie. They often have physical deficiencies that are made fun of.
•    Anonymous said... Mine learned to like gym class after he got a plan in place so that he can go to the resource room when overwhelmed. I was worried he would just leave all the time but it turned out that giving him the option so that he doesn't feel trapped removed a lot of the anxiety.
•    Anonymous said... My aspie loves running, jumping and gym. The only similarity is that he can think people are yelling at him when in fact they are using a stronger voice tone.
•    Anonymous said... My nephew hated the gym as well. But when I replaced it with power walking out in the open in fresh air he took it better. He complained initially, but after about 3 days into the routine he started looking forward to it and now enjoys it in a daily basis.
•    Anonymous said... My son got lucky and they put together a robotics class during sports so he does not have to do it smile emoticon He detests sport for the most part and used to come home very stressed after sport day. I feel lie robotics is a much better use of his time.
•    Anonymous said... Our aspie hates doing anything that involves moving
•    Anonymous said... This is a prime time for bullying behavior. I'm not saying this is happening to your child. For me (As an aspie kid) it was a nightmare. Kids would laugh and throw their shoes at me and the PE teacher was oblivious because there were so many kids to control.
•    Anonymous said... This is true lol

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