Children with special needs deserve an equal opportunity to participate and enjoy all activities. As teachers, we need to promote equality in arts for special needs students. When we introduce art projects for special needs students we may need to make some adaptations in the environment or activity to help the child feel comfortable, and do it well. This article describes various adaptations that can be done to enable children with special needs to participate and enjoy art activities.
Modifying the Position of the Activity
Children with physical disabilities need to be in a comfortable position to work well. Use special chairs, adjustable tables and pillows to to help the child do his art work comfortably. Children with sensory integration problems may prefer sitting on a swing, or lying on their belly. Allow the children to choose where and in which position they want to do the project. Stabilising the body helps children with coordination difficulties to control their hands more easily.
While planning art projects for special needs students, think through where the child will work. Children with physical disabilities will find it easy to do an art project if all the materials they require are well within reach and in the same place. Children will attention deficits will also benefit from this, and this will help them not to get distracted.
Modifying the Equipment and Medium
Modifying art supplies can make art accessible to all children. Children with hand function difficulties may need thick handled brushes and markers to be able to hold them easily. Some children may need Velcro wrapped around to hold the brush or marker in place. Children with tremors or coordination problems will benefit from heavier art materials. They may also do well with a weighted cuff on their forearm, wrist or shoulders.
Allow children to explore various mediums. They may be comfortable and do better with one. Often children who are not able to control or coordinate paint brushes or crayons do very well with thick markers. Also explore other techniques like finger painting, spray painting, carving etc. Some children will be more comfortable with working on an easel and others on a paper fixed on their table.
Individual vs. Group Activities
Individual and group activities have different advantages. Use them as required. Group activities are very beneficial for children who don’t have the ability to do all the steps of an activity. You can put children with higher and lower abilities together for a large project with many steps. They may not be able to do a very beautiful project on their own, but being a part of a group that’s doing a big project will give them a feeling of accomplishment. You can also put children with similar abilities in a group for a project they can all do together. Group activities are also good for children who get frustrated easily. On the other hand, some children feel stressed working in a group, and do better when they have their own space to work.
Children with special needs may need more time to complete an activity. Some children may find it difficult to sit (because of a physical disability) for a long period of time. According to the child’s needs, allow the child to do a project over a few days, or to take a break between stages.
Art can be used to learn, heal or just relax. In this process, the teacher has a very important role to play. You are the motivator and encourager. You are the organizer. You are the guide. Be sensitive to the child’s needs. Be creative with adaptations. Be supportive. How you play your roles will make a big difference to the child’s experience and learning.