The Arts in Special Education

by Angela Stevens on December 21, 2009

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I have many friends in the field of education, specifically special education. I have a special place in my heart for children, as many mothers do, and find myself enthralled by the different ways educators reach out to students with special needs. Children with emotional problems, who I have worked with directly, especially seem to benefit from time with an arts teacher.

sunbelt-arts-in-special-ed

By arts, I don’t just mean art such as painting; I also mean music teachers, dance teachers, and any other teacher that helps students express themselves in a nonverbal manner.

Some of the students that have had the most gains in behavioral and academic achievements have been those with autism and attention deficit disorder or other related conditions. Others, including students who have emotional problems and even some learning disabilities, seem to thrive in an arts environment.

These children are often withdrawn, and many do not want to participate in group activities in an academic class because they fear giving the wrong answer and being ridiculed, or perhaps they aren’t able to contribute to the conversation as quickly as other students and simply give up trying to become engaged in the daily activities. Arts classes give students the time they need to express themselves in a less competitive environment.

In an art class, for example, a student who has trouble communicating his feelings and desires verbally is able to express them through finger paints, chalks, or even clay. These tactile experiences also have the added benefit of being calming exercises. Special education teachers, art therapists, and child psychologists can all learn to interpret the feeling behind the artwork a child creates. The size and placement of objects are insights into what the child is experiencing in his or her environment.

A music class that gives individuals a chance to learn a specific instrument is a great way to involve a solitary child in a group activity. While the child is learning to play his instrument on his own, he will gain confidence in his ability to accomplish school tasks. Additionally, once the part or instrument has been learned, he will actively be engaged in a school activity.

While a majority of the benefits of having a special education student involved in some form of artistic expression within the school may seem like emotional or psychological benefits, there are academic benefits as well. Students who learn to enjoy school have an easier time learning, no matter what their disability. Dreading school and having nothing to look forward to on a daily basis is unquestionably detrimental to the child’s educational experience. Learning to follow directions in the art or music class can help children become accustomed and more willing to follow directions in their academic classes. Building positive peer relationships in the art classes can make students more comfortable engaging in classroom conversations, which will make them more likely to ask for help or clarification, something many special education students are reluctant to do.

Art should be a part of all special education curriculums. Whether a professional art teacher does this, an art therapist, or a special education teacher who is willing to incorporate time for the arts is irrelevant as long as the children are given a way to express themselves.

How will you integrate art into your special education classes?

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