handprints  multicolorArt is creative as well as being an educational experience for students. The arts provide a large variety of learning opportunities such as how to master specific art techniques, expressing oneself through art and encouragement of fine motor skills (needed to paint a picture or make a craft item). Art classes are also a rich source of history and social education as the teacher can bring in information about the history of artists and how their works have influenced popular culture.

If you have special needs students in your class, art is a highly adaptive activity that can be enjoyable for almost anyone..

Art as a Therapy

Art can be used as a form of therapy for non-verbal children, can be used in speech therapy or even to address behavioural or emotional problems in the student.

First Skills for Special Needs Children

Pre-Literary Skills – For the youngest of children, just letting them scribble or draw what they would like in a fun and relaxed way can introduce them to art without the pressure to create specific items or pictures. Some children find a blank sheet of paper a little threatening and may not want to draw anything. You can help increase their enthusiasm by starting the project yourself. Partially completed pictures give children the opportunity to add in their own art without having to start everything from ‘scratch’. Using cut out items such as squares of cardboard, paper tissue or photographs from magazines can also make it fun, stimulating the child’s imagination without being too daunting for them.

If the child has autism or a similar behavioral disorder, he or she may have a glue aversion and not like to touch anything sticky. This can make things more challenging when you are trying to complete an activity that involves sticking. You could try glue dots as an alternative to PVA glue, which are altogether less sticky. Another way of tackling the problem is by desensitisation – that is, gently introducing them to other items with a sticky texture so that they become used to it. Large foam stickers with peel off backs may be one way to do this. They allow them to experience the sticky sensation without going overboard with the glue.

Visual Disabilities – If a student has a visual disability such as blindness or partial sight, art projects that involve lots of texture are ideal so that they can feel their artwork even if they can’t see it. Items such as clay, shells, sand paper, corrugated board, sand and corn meal provide a tactile feast for children with limited visual ability. By mixing white powder paint with corn meal and adding it to their design made with glue, students can explore the different textures of the smooth powder paint and the corn meal. Partially sighted students may be able to see that the white powder paint turns green when added to glue, but this depends on the level of their disability. Older children or adults may benefit from more advanced tactile activities like ceramic tile making, wood carving or weaving.

Listening to music is another way a visually impaired student can enjoy the arts.

Emotional Problems – Art can be used as a therapy for emotional problems, anxiety disorder, depression or stress. Drawing positive scenes has been shown by researchers to temporarily improve mood and is more effective than venting about a problem. Art projects can be used to express feelings, resolve frustrations and enhance coping skills and may be useful for sick children, bereaved children or those who are survivors of abuse. It can also be an outlet for kids with hyperactivity. Eating disorders sometimes occur during childhood, most commonly to pre-teen and teenage girls and many clinics are now utilizing art therapies like painting, movement and dance to aid recovery from bulimia or anorexia. If you have a student who is recovering from an eating disorder you could use some of these techniques in your classroom to help them stay on the winning side.

Speech Problems – Art is an excellent way for non-verbal children to communicate. If they can’t speak, they can express how they feel on paper. If they have a speech defect, activities such as puppet making can encourage creativity while giving the child opportunities to speak through story telling.


Kinder Art, Special Artists, accessed 15 November, 2014, http://www.kinderart.com/special/

RNIB, Arts and Crafts, accessed 15 November, 2014, http://www.rnib.org.uk/information-everyday-living-home-and-leisure-leisure-activities-and-sports/arts-and-crafts

Short Term Mood Repair through Art Making, accessed 15 November, 2014, https://www2.bc.edu/~winner/pdf/shorttermmoodrepair.pdf

Contributed by Jenni Stevenson

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