IEPs & 504 Plans

Q: “Can We Include Physical Activity in My Child’s IEP?”

“Federal law requires states, districts, and schools to provide students with and without disabilities equal opportunity to participate in physical education and physical activity. That said, if you know your child benefits greatly from movement, it is definitely worth a conversation with the IEP team to determine how to incorporate more of it into his learning without disrupting other students.”

Young girl and boy ready to race on an athletics track
Credit: Catherine Delahaye/Getty Images

Q: “My child has ADHD, and we know that physical activity is an absolute must for him to control his symptoms. Can we incorporate physical activity and movement into his Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?”


This is a fantastic idea, though it may not be commonly implemented by families of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Multiple studies show that exercise, especially aerobic exercise, helps children with ADHD.1 2 There is also research on the benefits of certain exercise programs in reducing ADHD symptoms3, which supports the idea of extending such programs to schools for all students. For all children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.4

Federal law requires states, districts, and schools to provide students with and without disabilities equal opportunity to participate in physical education and physical activity.5 That said, if you know your child benefits greatly from movement, it is definitely worth a conversation with the IEP team to determine how to incorporate more of it into his learning without disrupting other students. Your child’s physical education teacher should form part of those conversations.

[Get This Free Download: Sports & Activities for Kids with ADHD]

Keep in mind your child’s quality of exercise in those conversations. What qualifies as P.E. in some schools is sometimes questionable. It’s important that your child (and all children, really) participate in exercise that elevates the heart rate and works up a sweat.

Movement before and after school might help your child as well. Your child might enjoy playing in a sports team, or, like many children with ADHD, they might prefer an individual sport, like swimming, tennis, cycling, running, and/or martial arts.

Physical Activity, ADHD, and School: Next Steps

The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “Lifestyle Changes with the Biggest Impact on Kids with ADHD” [Video Replay & Podcast #414],” with Sanford C. Newmark, M.D., which was broadcast on August 4, 2022.


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View Article Sources

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Inclusive School Physical Education and Physical Activity. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/inclusion_pepa.htm

2Berwid, O. G., & Halperin, J. M. (2012). Emerging support for a role of exercise in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder intervention planning. Current psychiatry reports, 14(5), 543–551. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-012-0297-4

3Christiansen, L., Beck, M. M., Bilenberg, N., Wienecke, J., Astrup, A., & Lundbye-Jensen, J. (2019). Effects of Exercise on Cognitive Performance in Children and Adolescents with ADHD: Potential Mechanisms and Evidence-based Recommendations. Journal of clinical medicine, 8(6), 841. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8060841

4Taylor, A., Novo, D., & Foreman, D. (2019). An Exercise Program Designed for Children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder for Use in School Physical Education: Feasibility and Utility. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 7(3), 102. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare7030102

5Lobelo, F., Muth, N. D., Hanson, S., Nemeth, B. A., COUNCIL ON SPORTS MEDICINE AND FITNESS, & SECTION ON OBESITY (2020). Physical Activity Assessment and Counseling in Pediatric Clinical Settings. Pediatrics, 145(3), e20193992. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2019-3992

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