For the Love of Art | Teaching Art to Children with a Disability

By: Lillian Brooks

Art. It’s a small word with big benefits for people of all ability levels. However, perhaps no other group can reap such positive rewards through learning and doing art than children. All children, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities, can get involved and enjoy everything from color and composition to the self-expression that goes along with boundless creativity.

Types of art

Art is everywhere, from the pictures on your wall to the design of each food package at your local grocery store. You can find art in the layout of a well-planned city and the stitches of a handmade quilt. Children especially enjoy art that provides instant gratification, such as drawing and making figures from clay.

Making accommodations

Many children with learning disabilities also have visual concerns that make artistic endeavors difficult. For these children, you must help them “see” the end result so they may understand the project. This can be accomplished by allowing them to touch a finished version. Other accommodations for physical barriers include added lighting, lowered tables, and paintbrushes and other tools with adaptive handles. VSA Vermont offers more information on modifying art materials for people with limited dexterity.

One of the most common learning disabilities is autism. While an ASD child may be fully capable of learning, many are programmed to think in literal terms and may find art superfluous. A rejection against art projects may be compounded by sensory input disorders, which often plague children on the spectrum. Janelle Farrand of Muddy Rose Pottery explains that sculpting out of clay is a particularly beneficial activity for autistic children. She explains that using a pottery wheel encompasses all of the senses in a soothing and calm atmosphere.

Children with dyslexia and other learning disorders can also benefit from the arts. Those who have trouble reading can learn to rely on audio programming to learn to listen for sounds as opposed to reading music, for instance. Kids with attention disorders, such as ADHD, may use physically expressive art, such as dance, as an outlet for pent-up energy.

Tips and tricks

In addition to catering to each child’s needs, teaching art in a classroom setting requires extra preparation. If you have a blend of abilities in your classroom, you can get a head start on your preparation with these steps:

  1. Set up materials in an organized manner

  2. Outline specific shapes on a canvas or drawing paper before children begin

  3. Offer plenty of options

  4. Think outside the box by using unusual materials for painting

  5. Allow children to use stencils or cookie cutters to give themselves a visual guide

  6. Read a story prior to each art lesson, then relate the project to the story

  7. Add a drop of scented oil paints to spark interest

Easy introductions

Here are two projects you can use to help your learning disabled children engage in new art projects.

Painting with sponges. Take normal kitchen sponges and cut them into different shapes. Show your students photographs of landscapes, and allow them to pick and choose which sponge pieces to use to create an abstract version of the image. Different types of sponges have different textures, so make sure to offer plenty of variety. This is a good starting project for young children; older children may gravitate toward more in-depth projects. The Art of Education offers additional ideas on how to modify art projects for special needs students.

Sewing a quilt. Sewing is more than just a life skill; it is an art form. Some children with learning differences may enjoy a long-term project, such as making a quilt. You can introduce your children to sewing and textile arts with simple projects, such as making a pillow or learning how to sew a button onto a shirt. HomeAdvisor has gathered and organized many valuable sewing resources you can use to launch your own educational art initiative.

Children with learning differences are still children. They will enjoy having the opportunity to get their hands dirty and present their parents and teachers with a piece of art to display in a place of honor at home or at school.

About the Author: Lillian Brooks

Lillian Brooks is the founder of For years, Lillian worked as a special education teacher with a focus on teaching children with learning disabilities. She created to offer information and understanding to parents of children with learning disabilities, as well as adults who are in need of continued support in order to succeed.

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