Special Needs

Special Needs Considerations in Teaching Art to Elementary and Middle School Students

The purpose of this assignment was to consider how we might adapt our activities/approach when teaching students with special needs. As a class, we brainstormed a list of special needs we might see in our classroom. Here is the list we came up with:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FASD)
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Attachment disorders
  • Visual impairment
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Children with cancer undergoing chemo/radiation

We then each zeroed in on one special need and considered how this might look at a specific grade level. We defined the special need and created a plan for an art activity where a student with this special need might require accommodation. Then we explained the difficulties the student might have and what accommodations they might need. Last, we considered whether other students might also benefit from this accommodation and why by providing some comments on universal design.

Acknowledgment: I worked on the assignment below with Nicole O.

We chose to explore how we might work with students with anxiety in our classrooms.

Special need: Anxiety

Grade level: Grade 2

Definition: Anxiety is a mental health concern that affects about 20% of children and adolescents. Anxiety looks different from one student to the next. Anxious learners may be timid/shy and quiet in the classroom or they may “act out” and behave disruptively at school. Children who suffer from anxiety may feel worried much of the time, have trouble in social situations, feel psychosomatic symptoms like stomach aches and headaches and/or experience panic attacks.[1]

Art activity: create a self-portrait using any materials available. Then engage in a non-judgmental critique of works produced at the end of the class period.

Difficulties anxious students may have with this activity: The lack of structure might make an anxious student feel paralyzed. Anxious students might feel pressure working with a time limit and next to their peers. They may feel self-conscious about not only their artistic abilities, but also themselves in general and may have trouble sharing themselves with their peers. Anxious learners may be nervous presenting their work in a group setting and also feel nervous sharing comments about others’ works in front of their classmates.

Possible accommodations: We could give some examples of materials students might use (paint, pastels, crayons) or provide some more guidance, while still leaving room for choice. For example, students could create visual representations of their face but they could also represent things that they like (e.g. a self-portrait could include a picture of pizza if that student likes pizza). This may help students feel more comfortable if their face is not on display and take away some worry about being perfect. We could also allow students to complete the work at home and engage in the non-judgmental critique at the beginning of the next class. We could also do a self-paced/nonverbal nonjudgmental critique by posting all the art pieces up on a wall with a sticky note next to each. Students’ names would be on the back so the works would be anonymous. We would then allow the students to circulate around the room and leave a positive comment next to somebody else’s work. This would be great to do at the beginning of the year to help students build confidence in their art. Our prof commented that it would be a good idea to practice this skill aloud first to help students learn how to do it.

Comments on universal design: The modifications we are suggesting to add structure may also help visual learners who like to have things more neatly packaged. While verbal nonjudgmental critiques may appeal most to auditory learners (who process by talking), the self-paced/nonverbal method may appeal to many other learning styles. For example, kinesthetic learners might like it because they are given the opportunity to move around the room and visual learners (who might also be shy) might like the calm, quiet environment.

Our prof also commented that breaking up the task to give lead time often helps anxious students – e.g. for the portrait activity: look for a story about drawing like ‘ish’. Have students mak a list of all the things they would put in if they mdd an ‘ish’ portrait. Have mirrors available – work in pairs to get more suggestions. Discuss possibility of a self-portrait being another object. Those ready to start begin. Others stay with you for further discussion.

[1] Source: AnxietyBC (https://www.anxietybc.com/parenting/parent-child)