Your art supplies are all ordered, delivered and put away. Your lesson plans are ready. Your room is set up just how you like it. As you get your roster of students you find out that one (or more!) has special needs. No need to panic. These 7 tips may help you to conduct a smooth inclusion process:
7 Ways to Include Students with Special Needs in Art Class
1. Use the Student’s IEP
If the student is in special education then he/she will have an IEP or Individualized Educational Program that will identify the child’s present level of performance (including cognitive abilities), strengths and weaknesses, goals and objectives as well as any assistive technology (this includes adaptive equipment) that is recommended for the child to be successful, and any appropriate related services which can include Occupational, Physical and/or Speech Therapy.
If possible get your hands on this document and review it before school starts and collaborate with the Special Education (SPED) team (an assigned SPED Teacher and Related Services as above) to help problem solve any positioning, communication, sensory motor and/or cognitive/behavior needs.
2. Ask Parents for Helpful Info
Parents of course are often the best advocates for their children so if an option, use the time to get to know the family at the “Meet the Teacher” events that many schools schedule just prior to the first day of school. Any particular sensory needs/preferences would be helpful during this discovery period. Is he bothered by lights/sounds? Does she get overwhelmed easily? What are his favorite ways to calm down or cope?
3. Make Your Classroom More Accessible
Consider the ease of accessibility of your art room layout. Do the tables have enough space between them to accommodate a wheelchair (min. 36”W) or is there at least one access row that would have this allotted space? For children with mobility issues (e.g., balance issues, walk with braces and/or crutches) be mindful of possible trip hazards such as a throw rug, protruding chair/stool legs, extension cords, etc. This is just good safety practice for all!
4. Change Up the Lighting
Overhead (especially fluorescent) lighting may cause issues with glare and overstimulation. Turn off, use flame retardant light shades or find out if dimmer switch installation or using free standing floor lighting are options.
5. Reduce Visual Stimulation
Reduce the amount of visual stimulation in the class. Keep supplies behind closed cabinets or consider using simple curtain or fabric panels to cover shelves. Limit the amount of artwork on the walls or suspended from the ceiling.
6. Consider Adding Adapted Seating
Make sure the work space is stable and accessible. Use adapted desks/seating as needed. To keep items in place use a non-skid pad under the student’s work surface.
7. Use Images to Supplement Instruction
A picture IS worth a thousand words! Use simple pictures or icons to supplement your art classroom rules, simple step by step directions etc. Make sure any child that is non-verbal has the ability to communicate basic needs. (Help me, I need to use the bathroom, I am thirsty etc.).
Art is Important for All Students
No matter what the student’s ability, research shows that the Arts make a difference in a child’s development. As an Art Educator you are a vital part of this process! Our best wishes for a smooth back to school transition and a wonderful year.