The Intersection of Arts Education and Special Education: Exemplary Programs and Approaches
The Adaptive Art Specialist: An Essential Part of Students' Approaches to the Arts SUSAN D. LOESL
How can someone who can't hold a brush draw? How could an untouchable man create with clay? How can I draw when I don't have access to drawing tools because of their size or shape? For some students with disabilities, the work of an adaptive art specialist can help them develop the ability to create as independently as possible.
- Adaptive Arts Specialists Many schools across the United States have limited access to artwork. Because of budget cuts, the school district has cut many arts and music professionals from elementary schools. Some kept art and music to a minimum at the middle and high school levels. As a result, many art professionals lament that students' skills are not as good as they were a few years ago. Today's students struggle with expectations for the basics, let alone rigorous arts programs.
--Also, students who do not have much experience in art usually do not become consumers of art. They may lose some of their abilities as problem solvers or feel uncreative in other aspects of their lives. Students with disabilities should have access to art-making experiences as or better than their peers. Students with physical disabilities need more opportunities to move their hands and bodies and to increase their strength and independence. For students with social and emotional difficulties, works of art are often their haven. Through the arts, students with cognitive disabilities learn to work concretely through an understanding of abstract concepts. Art teachers and adaptive art professionals are trained to provide activities and experiences that support students' creative activities. It offers students many opportunities to practice the physical and mental skills they will need for a lifetime. Adaptive art specialists can help art teachers develop the skills to teach students.
--Some students with disabilities do not have adequate access to artwork because of physical, cognitive, social, emotional, or other problems. Students' access to art production is also restricted by teachers without art education. These teachers need help in determining how to meet the unique needs of their students in the art-making process. An Adaptive Art Specialist is an art teacher with additional certification to the standard K-12 Art Teacher License.
--Art teachers interested in obtaining additional licensure should consult their local university or state Department of Public Education regarding their specific requirements. The process of obtaining a professional certificate in adaptive arts education is not mandatory or equitable in all 50 states. Many school districts are looking for applicants with additional adaptation certifications, but are not an employment requirement. Adaptive art workshops and seminars are offered through universities and organizations such as VSA (www.kennedycenter.org/education/vsa/). Offered nationwide for art teachers interested in further training in adaptive art education.
--They receive a formal education, but may be more involved in the Individualized Education Planning (IEP) process than traditional art teachers.
--Not to be confused with art therapists, adaptive art specialists do not create therapeutic activities for students in the art space. Many agree that engaging in art production is therapeutic on several levels. Art therapists have skills in materials and strategies to work with people with a variety of problems, and can become consultants to adaptive art specialists as needed. Adaptive art professionals may also have art therapy certifications, but You are not required to have an art education license.
--The Adaptive Art Specialist enters the classroom and works with the classroom as a model for the teacher to observe. Adaptive art specialists model how to deliver art activities and deliver lessons.
--In co-education, the art teacher leads the activity and the adaptive art teacher follows the art teacher's guidance. The adaptive art teacher supports the art teacher's lesson planning with individual students to determine strategies to later share with the art teacher. Adaptive art professionals can use techniques such as drawing and cropping to determine if adaptive tools are needed and which ones work best. Reviewing a special education or art teacher's lesson plan is another support provided by an adaptive art specialist.
--Adaptive art professionals can conduct workshops for many art teachers at once. Professionals can also facilitate ongoing support for art teachers, provide online support to teachers through blogs and other resource websites, and assist with ordering adaptive tools for schools.
--Lending Libraries help teachers choose the right tools for their students' unique needs and develop their own adaptive tool resources.
--Most art education programs require outstanding learners or special education overview courses as part of teacher preparation, but many do not offer art-related courses for students with special needs or different learning styles. An art specialist is a teacher who, similar to a music or physical education teacher, engages with all students in a school building.
--Too Many Students, Too Little Art Professionals Despite all this lack of training, art professionals are expected to teach art to all students in the building, regardless of grade or disability.
--Some elementary school art teachers teach up to 28 different classes per week in schools of 300 to 1100 students and still see each student once a week. In contrast, at the elementary level, the homeroom teacher may place the same 28-36 students in a class each day, which may or may not include students with disabilities. A middle and high school art teacher sees up to 40 students 6-7 lessons per day, but sees the same students every day for a semester. For special education teachers, the number of middle schools and high schools can be much smaller, with 4-15 students per class, depending on the student's level of disability. Some schools only include students of similar age who are struggling with serious difficulties in art classes only. This placement affects an art teacher's ability to adequately teach either group.
--The Adaptive Art Specialist can help art teachers easily access a student's IEP and interpret the impact of IEP goals on student participation in the art classroom. It is also important to note that although art professionals rarely attend IEP meetings, their opinions can provide insight into the student.
--For some students, art classes are the only reason they come to school because they don't succeed in other academic classes. Art making is how they express themselves in a unique way. They get the much-needed positive attention and recognition.
--Art classes require advance preparation of specially adapted equipment or materials for student access and manipulation. Art teachers are responsible for preparing art classes for general education students, as well as planning for any accommodations students with special needs may need. It is important to use good communication strategies so that class time is not wasted and students have access to their work of art.
--Adaptive art professionals are trained to use communication equipment and can serve as a bridge between special education and art teachers. It takes some practice for art professionals to be able to incorporate VOCA or other communication strategies into their art work. Once everyone is accustomed to using communication devices, it becomes second nature for students, colleagues, and staff.
--Students with autism have many advantages, including visual spatial skills and sustained attention (Quill, 1997). Visual strategies can help students with language comprehension difficulties understand what to expect from activities (Stokes, 2004). In the art room, these visual aids can help students who are distracted and out of work.
--When students feel empowered to make their own choices, they are more likely to take risks when opportunities arise. Resources and Coordination of Materials Art teachers look everywhere for information on how to tailor artwork for students with disabilities. When they can find papers, books, or websites online, a significant amount of information is lacking. There are currently two excellent book sources published through the NAEA, co-authored by an art teacher and a special education teacher. Teaching and Reaching the Arts for Students with Special Needs (Gerber & Guay, 2006) highlights specific categories of students with disabilities and the unique challenges of the arts. Another book, Understanding Students with Autism Through the Arts (Gerber & Kellman, 2010) focuses on the successful strategies of art teachers, leaders in creating art for students with autism. Both books are now used as textbooks for adaptive art courses nationwide.
--Art therapist Frances Anderson wrote "Art for All Children" in 1978. The second edition (1994) is the basis for many approaches to adaptive art making for children. Anderson's book shows how to adjust art tools with simple materials (eg tape, pegs) and how to work with students with specific problems. Her skills are still valid today and she has guided many art teachers and art therapists over the years. Another book by Anderson, Art-Centered Education and Therapy for Children with Disabilities (1994), provides information from an art education and art therapy perspective. Another art therapist, Judith Rubin, in Child Art Therapy 25th Anniversary Edition (2005)
Myungja Anna Koh