Muscular dystrophy and gym class


I can’t count on my fingers and toes how many times I pretended to be sick to get out of gym class in elementary and junior high. Mostly it was on days when we had Presidential Fitness Testing — which is the most unfortunate and ridiculous test I’ve ever taken. I had a sickness for every type of test day — mile run day, pull-up day or sit-up day — take your pick.

Aside from the fitness testing there were a couple negative things I remember about my gym classes. One substitute teacher told me to “push away from the dinner table” and maybe I’d run faster. And I even had a 400 lb. gym teacher once actually reprimanded ME for not being able to do sit-ups in time with this stupid “Chicken Fat” song he seemed to like so much. I don’t think he could even SEE his toes, much less touch them.

Of course these teacher are forgiven because like me, they had no idea I had muscular dystrophy. I was a very slow runner but not so slow that it was obvious anything was wrong. So through 8th grade, I participated in regular gym class and it wasn’t all that bad 99% of of the time. Unfortunately it’s those 1% of negative instances we tend to remember.

Once high school came along I had the choice of getting exempted from physical education class or taking adaptive PE. I chose to do adaptive PE for all but one quarter when I had a course conflict and got exempted. I actually really liked adaptive PE. There was a combination of kids who had mental difficulties, several who had physical issues, and some who were probably there because they punched the regular PE teacher in the face.

We played badminton, went swimming, and even did archery. I’m not so sure putting bows and arrows in the hands of mentally unstable kids was the smartest thing for my PE teacher to do, but we all survived. I even won $5 for piercing the money-filled envelope on the target. I guess that’s one way to keep everyone aiming at the target and not each other.

It was a very low-key class. The point was to get us off our butts and doing some activity. We were not graded on how well we performed, it was all about effort. Even though I never got bonus points for being the badminton champion I did usually get an A or B in that class. There was also less pressure because PE did not count on our GPA — a philosophy I think makes great sense for all schools. If it is counted in your GPA and you are worried about getting a bad grade in PE class, I recommend not ruining a good GPA and get exempted. Your GPA is more important than whether or not you can square dance.

One of my initial worries was the reaction to my being in that class. However I never got teased for being in adaptive gym class. Rarely did the adaptive class and regular classes ever cross paths. People probably wouldn’t even have known I was in a special gym class unless I told them.

Another huge benefit of being in the adaptive class is that there was no pressure from other students — either to get the ball back or make the basket or win the point. This is one of the things I hated about competing with physically stronger kids — if you didn’t perform it was easy to get pointed out. It didn’t happen often but whenever I heard “why didn’t you get that one?” or something it made me mad because I was so competitive.

So if the adaptive option exists, I recommend taking it. If there is no adaptive option, the regular class is worth trying. If it just doesn’t work out then work to get an exemption and take a fun class or study hall. You can always do your own physical activity on your own if need be.

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One Response to Muscular dystrophy and gym class

  1. Sarah says:

    Hi! I’m a kindergarten teacher and one of my students has recently been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. He does not like PE class because he feel that the other students move a little faster than he does. Do you have any suggestions on how I can help make PE more enjoyable for him?

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