Art students with special needs hold a very special place in my heart. In the past, I have worked during the summer as a skilled need provider and respite provider to students with a special needs. I even held a day camp with art activities for special needs students. It was such a learning experience, and I learned so much about life and about art strategies for special needs kids through my work.
I want to provide the optimum experience for all students in my art room. I care they get the skills they need and the projects are tailored to the level that is appropriate for each student. We are a school of full inclusion, so student with special needs come to art with all of the other students, or with an associate if their IEP states they need that support. Here are some tips to help you support special needs art students in your room.
Support #1: You are the Teacher
One of the most profound things I have learned over my years of teaching is to keep your hopes for all students at the forefront of your classroom. Some students come in with a 1:1 associate. In the past, I would hesitate to correct the associate when they were instructing the student in a way I disagreed with. As art educators we need to realize that we are the experts in this field, and all who enter our rooms are looking for advice from US! We are in the driver’s seat. I now have the confidence to speak up, offer suggestions and recommend the modifications that I think are best for the student. After all, I am the teacher!
Support #2: Be Creative with Choices
What works for one student may not work for all students. I have found that multiple solutions can work for a group of students. For example, recently we did clay in the art room. One of my autistic students had a lot of sensory issues with using the clay. I offered him a pair of latex gloves. (ok, these were non-latex because of allergies, but you get the picture) This simple solution made clay manageable for him and was a quick fix. I did not press the issue. I just offered choices.
Support #3: Visuals
Many Special Education teachers have a program on their computers with picture systems they can download and make for students. I requested a set of art pics to make my own picture schedule to keep in the art room. I laminated and Velcroed them to file folders for easy access. I can pull off the pictures that match the activity we are doing. A picture schedule helps students know what comes first and next. It helps them know what to expect and maps out the art class for students. I have thought this system would even be helpful for all students to know what processes to expect in the art room. Maybe I will blow these up even larger on my whiteboard as a schedule for the whole class. I use a lot of the First-Then method. First draw, Then crayons. It helps students understand what to expect out of their art time. I love the clay pictures. SQUISH with the thumb! So funny!
My mom is an expert when it comes to working with special needs kids. She has devoted her life’s work to it. I found this image she drew for a student from awhile back and it made me laugh. Yet another way to show a student what is expected. I particularly love the little car at the end. Yay! We get to go home!
Support #4: Be a Team Player
Mrs. Balsley (me) is on SO MANY behavior charts. What? you may ask… So many students in my school are too creative for their own good. They have some behavior issues, but also love art. As the art teacher, I ask: “How can I help”… So, as a reward for students meeting their daily goal in the classroom, some of them get to come in and “help the art teacher.” This can take only 10 minutes during my prep, but means the absolute world to the student. I have also assembled “Art Kits” at the end of the week for students who meet their weekly goal. They get to take home a kit to make an art project over the weekend. The small amount of time it takes me to devote to these projects is extra special and helpful for the students, parents and teachers, so I really don’t mind! I feel so good that art is important enough to the students to motivate them.
Support #5: Do Your Research
Keeping updated on resources and publications relating to artists with special needs is important. The learning you take part in will come to you at just the right time to implement when a student is in need.
The following book is one I have used as a resource over the years, but there are so many more out there… Sometimes you are your best resource! You know your students and you may have the best strategies to best meet their needs.
Please share something you do to meet the needs of all of the artists you teach!
I look forward to reading your ideas.
pssst…. There is still time to enter to win Tuesday’s Giveaway – a Crayola Class-pack of Triangular Crayons right here!