Art for Special Education

There’s an old saying: Every picture tells a story. For students with special needs, a drawn picture, sculpture or handmade poster may do more than tell a story. It may open their minds to new possibilities of learning.

Individuals with dysgraphia (a deficiency in the ability to write by hand, regardless of the ability to read or of intellectual impairment), processing disorders, autism or Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD) often have a hard time communicating with others, let alone with the teachers. Also, many will struggle to process lectures or written text. Those with certain physical handicaps or with dysgraphia will struggle with tasks such as taking notes or writing an essay by hand.

Their limitation, albeit physical, intellectual or emotional, may prevent them from expressing their thoughts or to learn through traditional reading and writing. Also, many of these students will have memory processing disorders associated with their disabilities. Art, with its visual cues and ability to trigger their creative sides may give them the chance to communicate what they know and feel about a particular subject, and to create cognitive connections that will be remembered by them.

A majority of students with specific learning disorders are strong visual or tactile learners. Give the student a chance to draw a picture associated with a new vocabulary word, for example, and they may be able to remember the word and make it a part of their vocabulary Or, a poster board project using graphics, illustrations or pictures to accompany written texts can help the student remember and review a chapter in a science or history book.

Art in any form is a task. It involves work and concentration, yet it is more hands-on than note-taking and produces more memorable results. Also, art, as part of the curriculum can serve as an accommodating tool for students with learning disabilities and as a modification tool for students with intellectual developmental delays.

As a tool for accommodation, it can provide an alternative to paper-and-pencil questions often given at the end of a lesson. Instead of writing something out, a student can use art to show they had comprehended a chapter lesson or a story.

Art can help those with limited intellectual abilities with their assignment. Since these students will have modified lessons (something that’s different from the general education or done at their educational levels), they can use art to understand the lesson. Through simple directions, for example, a student with mental retardation may use cut-and-paste art work or drawings to create a map of their route to school or work from home.

Finally, art is an outlet for many of these students. Art can be a visual such as paining or sculpturing. It can also be performance-based such as acting or music making. It can also be creative writing. Either way, an individual with learning disabilities have experiences that are unique from other individuals. Through art, they can express that world they have lived to a general public. In the art world, there are many sculptors, painters and illustrators who have some form learning disability, and had struggled to get the teachers and their peers to understand them. They found that outlet through art.


“INCLUSIVE ART CLASSES: NEVER ASK, “WHAT IS IT?” Special Education News, Dec. 18 1999; “THE PRODUCT IS NOT THE POINT WHEN ART AND SPECIAL ED MIX” Special Education News, Oct. 21, 2000;