Date of Award

Spring 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Human Movement Sciences

Committee Director

Justin A. Haegele

Committee Member

Xihe Zhu

Committee Member

Jonna L. Bobzien


The purpose of this study was to explore the meaning that students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) ascribed to their experiences in self-contained physical education (PE) classes. Four participants with a primary diagnosis of ASD who attended a self-contained PE class in a separate public day school were purposively selected for this study. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews, observational field notes, and reflective notes. Methodological triangulation, researcher reflexivity, and peer debriefing were utilized to support trustworthiness. After interview transcription, thematic development was conducted using a three-step analytic process informed by the purpose and research approach adopted in this study. Overall, the participants’ experiences in PE were positive and meaningful, and three interrelated themes emerged from the data. The first theme, “They care about my feelings”: Teachers’ attitudes in PE, highlighted participants’ descriptions of why their physical educators played a critical role in shaping their experiences. The second theme, “My friends make it more meaningful”: Importance of positive peer interactions, revealed the significance the participants ascribed to participating in PE with their peers. Finally, the third theme “Oh, but the noise”: Structural and sensory considerations, describe accommodations within PE the participants attributed to a more enjoyable and successful PE experience. Additionally, sensory sensitivities described hyper- and hypo-sensitive sensory stimulations the participants experienced in PE. The themes highlight several contributing factors influencing participants’ positive PE experiences which should be considered by PE teachers to enhance the quality of education for students with ASD.