One of the hardest things about having an NVLD can be participating in Physical education, especially at the secondary level. What is often overlooked is that accommodations/modifications can be made for NVLD students to make gym class more enjoyable, and if done correctly, their classmates don’t even know it. This can be done by having a meeting with your gym teacher ahead of time to choose activities you can do for each unit so you won’t be faced with having to choose between two activities that include so many gross motor and hand-eye coordination skills, such as volleyball or Badminton.
First of all, while certainly not an in-class activity, opening your gym locker is something you may need an accommodation for. During elementary school, combination locks were not used. Getting this may require your parents and resource room teacher or other service providers to mention this deficit to the gym teacher(s) ahead of time so a lock can be provided so you can practice this skill over the summer, and if assistance is still needed it can be put in place before the first day of class. For me personally, I needed help with this from 6th grade until the beginning of 9th grade, when I was finally able to open my gym locker. This was thanks to my gym teacher and track coach Penny Sharrow, who said to me privately, “Eileen, I believe you are ready to be able to open your own locker,” so she worked with me privately on-on-one and, believe it or not by the end of the week I never needed assistance again.
Through open communication, one of the first accommodations I received was being allowed to walk the track in place of playing Badminton. As mentioned earlier, Badminton required way too much hand-eye coordination for me. Early on, the hard part about doing this was that during 6th grade, our first year of middle school, all students usually participated in just one activity to learn the sport altogether. So while everyone else was doing Badminton there, I was walking all alone. Fortunately, with this accommodation, I also got to have an upperclassman walk with me as arranged by my teacher, and being a 6th grader, I thought this was “cool.” More importantly, two of these upperclassmen became like a mentor to me as time went on.
Another activity I did for Physical Education class was swimming rather than volleyball in high school. This was completely inclusive as my classmates were allowed to choose swimming as well. Yes, it was clear many of them were stronger swimmers than me, but because we had a pool at home, I was a decent swimmer considering my disability. This continued to be an activity I could enjoy all throughout high school as everything was done at your own pace. Due to this, I could set reasonable goals for myself, which made gym class more beneficial and less stressful.
Keep in mind if you do decide to ask about accommodations/ modifications for physical education, it never means you should be placed in a self-contained Adaptive Physical Education class. Being fully included in academics also includes Physical Education since it is part of your academic program; therefore, teachers must give accommodations/modifications in PE in the inclusive setting just like they do in your general education courses. This misunderstanding can happen because PE is often viewed as a special area and not a required course, so it can seem inclusion isn’t necessary. It is so important to work together with your parents, PE teacher, and other service providers so you can all create a program that allows for inclusion in PE with the understanding there may be times that your modifications require separation, such as my walking experience because sometimes only one activity can be offered to students for course requirements purposes. I was so fortunate as Penny Sharrow was one of the most accommodating and empathic teachers I ever had, and I believe your PE teachers will be too if you request modifications since the other PE teacher was also amazing to me too.
Overall, if your NVLD causes gross motor skills deficits, don’t hesitate to get the required accommodations/modifications set up so you can be successful. Honestly, it is no different than an academic teacher providing you with extended time. Looking back, Penny Sharrow always made sure I was safe and cared for me and, in fact, years later, is still a very special person to me as she understood the nature of my NVLD while others didn’t. Therefore I strongly believe the same can happen for you as all teachers want their students to do the best they can do.
I love all the personal connections that I am blessed to have!