Understanding the engagement of children with impairments in physical education: A review of research using self-determination theory


Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is commonly used in research to understand children's motivation in physical education because the major components of one of its mini-theories – Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT) – are highly relevant in this context. SDT has been extensively applied in physical education research with children without impairments; however, this does not seem to be the case for children with impairments. Given BPNT's underlying assumption that all people feel an innate commitment to satisfy their needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy, it has potential to advance research in this area. The purpose of this review was to summarize the adapted physical education literature from 2007 to 2018 concerning at least one of the major components of BPNT to determine the nature and extent of research. Method: Scholarly literature was searched for in relevant databases and journals, with data of interest extracted from 15 eligible studies. Results: The majority of studies examined different facets of physical education that supported or thwarted children's need for autonomy, followed by competence and relatedness respectively. A mix of qualitative and quantitative methods was used to gather data from elementary and middle school aged children with a variety of impairments. Conclusion: The results indicate that teachers and paraprofessionals primarily thwart the basic psychological needs of children with impairments in physical education. Greater research is needed with respect to all of the components of BPNT, particularly relatedness though, as positive student-professional relationships can contribute to the fulfillment of all children's needs.