by Merle Karnes Ph.D. 

The value of art activities for children with special needs can't be overemphasized! They provide all young children, and especially children with special needs, with an outlet for expression and creativity that enhances learning.

Art activities are good ways to foster self-esteem. Because no work of art is ever "wrong," children with special needs don't need to worry that their art won't be "as good as" others!

Since art may be a new experience for many children with special needs, it's a good idea to help them get started by talking about and perhaps demonstrating a few ways to use materials and techniques. Children can then choose which of these, or other ideas, they want to explore. Encourage them to be as independent as possible, but be sure you're there to help if needed.

Here are ideas for helping children with different needs get involved in art.

Children with visual disabilities get information when you describe available materials and the ways they might be used, and encourage children to manipulate the items. Make sure the room has plenty of light to help those children who have some useful vision.

Children with hearing impairments can learn about activities just by observing you or other children using the materials. Be sure to communicate with children about their art using sign language, lip reading, or any methods they understand.

Children with physical disabilities may need to use art materials in different ways, such as lying on the floor over a bolster pillow to draw. Some children may need you to help them manipulate the materials or even to physically carry out their ideas. Make sure the child controls the creative process as much as possible by encouraging him to communicate specifically what he wants you to do.

Children with attention deficit disorders tend to be most successful when they have their own materials and spaces to work, and are permitted to make as many art products as they like. Art experiences are good ways to hold attention, and provide children with acceptable, enjoyable ways to express their feelings.