Adapted Physical Activity (APA)1 brings joy and pleasure to physical education. The students experience independence, empowerment and equality regardless of their level of function. And they take those experiences with them when the lesson has finished. However, in order to further develop APA and the advantages of this method, it is necessary to cooperate at an international level.
By Anders M. Rundh and Mads Kopperholdt, the APA team at the Centre for Deafblindness and Hearing Loss (CDH)2, Aalborg, Denmark
How do you inspire deafblind students to do sport, make new friends across various levels of function and to develop communicatively while at the same time creating an innovative and exciting teaching environment?
These were some of the questions we were pondering back in 2008 after having participated in a conference on APA in Torino, Italy. As physical education teachers both of us are inspired by the informal spaces created in sport activities and by the fact that based on this you can create relationships and thus prepare the ground for a common understanding and communication.
How APA works at CDH
This concept for our teaching is based on two principles of equal importance: the sporting element and the social element. From the start, our thesis was that by building a social solidarity between the students we would create a forum where the students would learn from each other and where the adults would be used as tools rather than as a point of contact and communication.
As physical education teachers we focus our efforts on adapting physical education to a group of deaf and congenitally deafblind children in the APA class at the Centre for Deafblindness and Hearing Loss (CDH). The project has only been running for a few years but we have already experienced some very positive results:
• Communicative competences
Students are using new signs and gestures not only during the lessons but also in contexts other than APA.
• Increased social competences
Students approach each other more frequently, also in contexts other than APA. Students seem happy to see each other again.
• Increased knowledge of their own bodies
Students display more ways of moving in their movement pattern. Their motor skills are improved and the students are able to work at different levels (LABAN’s Qualities of Movement)3
• Improved musculature
Students display greater strength and stamina in everyday life.
We have observed that each student has gained increased self-esteem, self-confidence and empowerment. And of course the students benefit from this in everyday life.
We started the APA project after having attended the 9th EUFAPA4 conference (in Torino Italy in 2008) on sport and movement adapted for people with functional disabilities. We were so inspired by what we saw, experienced and tested that we brought the ideas home to Aalborg where we adapted them to our group of students.
At the time we did not feel that the school’s physical education programme was sufficiently functional. Typically it consisted in doing exercises recommended by the physiotherapist and we found that all the fun and social elements of sport had been taken out.
Our line of thought was that sport is for all. And this means having to adapt the exercises to each individual student. The exercises must not be too difficult for the students to carry out but on the other hand they must not be too easy either so they do not provide the students with enough of a challenge. If we manage to get the level right, the lessons will give the students some really good experiences of success. Later on we discovered that this is in line with university research in the U.S., which we became aware of when working with Professor Lauren Liebermann of Brockport University in New York5. Lauren Liebermann is, among other things, the ideas woman and driving force behind Camp Abilities6 and has written several articles on sport, communication and the deafblind.
The student group
During the few years we have been using APA at CDH, we have been teaching five students with deafblindness and nine deaf students with an additional disability. Each group has consisted of six students – two deafblind students and four deaf students with an additional disability.
The student groups were put together based on their individual communicative and physical potentials and competences.
Case study: APA unlocked N’s potentials
When we started the APA group, one of the students was a shy boy of 12 with CHARGE syndrome (N) who had a low self-esteem, found social relations difficult, did not benefit much from, nor found much pleasure in physical education and was very dependent on his main teacher as his only route of communication with a trusty adult. Through the sporting and social elements, which are the central principles of APA teaching, N developed slowly but surely. He started to expand his routes of communication, interacting with the other students and expressing his activities in words and signs. His self-esteem had increased through experiences of success and thus he gained the energy to help the other students in the group. N felt at ease with the exercises and himself. In the end he took on some sort of leadership role in the group. This made us realize his potential as a positive role model. During the same period we were introduced to Lene Hammer, the Accessibility Coordinator at the Swedish National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools7 (Specialpedagogiska Skolmyndigheten) who has put the peer tutor concept8 into words. Through her presentation and our conversations we felt inspired to test the peer tutor concept on N. We have now been doing this for two years with great success. We see that N grows with the role and gains good competences in selecting information and preparing, presenting and carrying out the lessons – though still with the guidance and support of a teacher. We evaluate each lesson and the result of the evaluation is used in the next lesson.