Students with Intellectual Disabilities by Beverly Levett Gerber
Art teachers may be surprised when students with intellectual disabilities do not remember information taught just yesterday. They may be perplexed when a student pays attention to something outside the room instead of the art technique demonstrated inside the room. It might also be puzzling when a student with intellectual disabilities says he understands the directions, but doesn’t follow them. Add to this challenging mix the fact that most students with intellectual disabilities have articulation problems and are difficult to understand.
A too general question, for example, “Do you understand?” will probably get a nod of agreement (a quick, easy, socially acceptable response) but may not indicate that the information was understood. Questions that can be answered with a quick “yes” or “no” will not yield much information either. To further complicate the seemingly easy suggestion to ask more questions, the language skills of students with intellectual disabilities are often below that of their peers without disabilities so they may not be able to describe the help they need. To reach students with intellectual disabilities, questions need to be very specific.
Students with intellectual disabilities do learn, but differently. They enjoy art as much as any other students and can produce artwork of original design and complex composition. Still, while students with intellectual disabilities are not difficult to teach, they do need some accommodations to fully participate in the Page 62/Chapter 5 art lesson.
It is also helpful to remember that, as with typical students, art abilities are not based on either mental age or chronological age. Some students with intellectual disabilities draw well; others have a great sense of color and composition. Some work well with clay and others weave. Today there are a number of artists selling extraordinary artwork who have moderate and even severe intellectual disabilities. For example, one young woman with Down syndrome uses yarn to wrap found objects. Her work is shown, and sells, in a California gallery. A young man with intellectual disabilities carves horses that are cast in metal and sold in a gallery in the West. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, artists at the Kennedy Center, a work setting for people with moderate and severe disabilities, have sold their artwork to individual and corporate buyers. The artworks of other artists with intellectual disabilities can be seen in state and national VSA arts (Very Special Arts) shows.
“Don't Assume” should be the golden rule of teaching. It is easy to assume that students with intellectual disabilities will be familiar with everyday vocabulary words and will understand directions. It is also easy to assume that these students, once shown what to do, can begin the process of creative decision making.
--Two big assumptions! Most students with moderate retardation (intellectually disabled) have problems of communication (Warren & Abbeduto, 1992). Their poor articulation can make it difficult to initially understand them. In addition, they may have the delayed language and limited active vocabulary that often accompany intellectual disabilities (Spradlin, 1968). Consequently, many students who are intellectually disabled lack the vocabulary words to express their needs and respond to questions.
example: This teaching technique can be applied to other art materials and processes. For example, “How many kinds of lines can you draw” (e.g., straight, wiggly, curved, zig-zag, fat, thin, curly, bumpy, dark, light, dotted, happy, sad, etc.)? Viewing and discussing works of art also encourages students to build their descriptive vocabulary. Even students with limited expressive skills can point to parts of the art work described by others. The art class offers students with intellectual disabilities unlimited possibilities for vocabulary building and possibly, a chance to shine. After all, some of their new vocabulary words may be unfamiliar to their typical peers and siblings.
tip: However, choice-making in art allows students with intellectual disabilities an unlimited number of opportunities, opportunities often unavailable in other subject areas in inclusive classrooms. Consider the number of art options when a student puts a pencil to paper: what to draw; where to place the pencil and begin; what kind of line to make (thin, fat, straight, diagonal, long, short, etc.); where to draw the line; where to start and end a line; what to draw next; how close to place it to the other line/s; what kind of shape to make (round, star, pear, square, etc.)? ‘The art teacher will need the assistance of a paraprofessional to offer choices to students who are severely disabled, but this effort should be made. Choice making helps defines us as individuals.
Students with intellectual disabilities generally have good long-term memory, but have considerable difficulty with their poor short-term memory (Borkowski, Peck, & Damberg 1983; Ellis 1970; Zeaman & House, 1963, 1979). They can remember events that others may have forgotten long ago but may forget classroom directions that are no problem for their typical peers. They need help remembering and sequencing the directions and may require extra review long after the lesson directions have been given to the rest of the class. Teachers may find this characteristic frustrating when it is necessary to repeat a process or to review vocabulary that has already been covered in class. Review however, is a necessary teaching strategy for students with intellectual disabilities.
The number of times it takes to get new words into long term memory may be surprising. Based on IQ scores, Hargis (1982) found that students within the average IQ range of 90-109 needed 35 repetitions to learn new sight words and students in the IQ range of 60-69 needed 55 repetitions. Since Hargis’ scores show an additional five repetitions were needed for each 10-point drop in IQ scores, we can surmise that students with moderate intellectual disabilities (35-55 IQ) will need 60 or more repetitions.
The general education curriculum proceeds at a faster rate than students with intellectual disabilities can manage and many tasks are beyond their skill level. An emphasis on testing results and comparisons with students across the state and country adds still more pressure. It is not surprising that someone who frequently experiences failure might be hesitant to try something new.
The old saying, “Success breeds success,’ shows how the art curriculum can be helpful for students with intellectual disabilities.
First, a student with limited reading and math skills can still succeed in art. Teacher demonstrations, frequent review of the directions, and peer helpers can provide all the information needed to successfully complete the lesson.
Second, many students with intellectual disabilities are quite good in their compositional skills and use of color. Art is a subject that fits their natural skills and can provide a sense of mastery, as long as each student's creative level is encouraged and appreciated.
Third, like traditional subjects, may involve an escalating sequence of skills that get progressively harder and more complex, they can usually be accomplished by students with a range of skill levels. Students also have the opportunity to start anew and begin at the beginning. Knowledge of one media, clay construction for example, is not needed for drawing or painting.
Art teachers can help to break the cycle of failure and offer opportunities to succeed. Sometimes the skills required are relatively simple but the results are quite satisfying.
The computer art program unit was divided into three parts: (1) learning about the computer; (2) learning about the art program; and (3) using the computer art program. New vocabulary and icons were introduced one or two at a time, and students practiced the new skill after each part of the art program was introduced.
The art room provides educational advantages and opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities. Art lessons use concrete materials that are manipulated by the students. The lessons and materials ground the student in the here and now. The skills used in art lessons are used in the intended setting at the time they are needed. And, there is no problem transferring the skills learned in the art room. The art materials used by the students are materials that can be used in the community. Students with intellectual disabilities benefit from their art experiences. Teaching them can be easier and more enjoyable when art teachers understand how students with intellectual disabilities learn.
Myungja Anna Koh