PsycholARTSical: Psyched about the arts/Arts and Special Needs Students



Art education is essential for a well-rounded academic program that contributes to higher order thinking skills across all disciplines. Art education provides children with a fully integrated appreciation of culture and community. Art is a powerful means of expression that enables the child to develop a wide range of skills such as: leadership, teamwork, communication, self-discipline, self-expression & creativity. Art education has many benefits and students with special needs should not be excluded, however, often teachers are ill informed of the variety of ways to integrate a child with special needs in the arts classroom. This paper will discuss: the importance of learning visual art, understanding visual impairments, how to foster an inclusive atmosphere, motivation as well as provide an array of teaching strategies in the visual arts classroom for the blind and visually impaired student.

The Importance of Learning Visual ArtEdit

In the 1980’s arts education for the blind was thought to be unimportant or impossible, there was a clear need to be met- busy teachers needed not to reinvent the wheel but the blind and visual impaired students needed not to be excluded. Some may inquire, “Why teach art to people who are blind?” People with sight loss/impairment are as likely to have a need to make and appreciate art as those with sight, their mental visual activity continues even after loss of sight and engagement in the visual arts is possible regardless of the degree of their visual activity. Despite a students abilities, arts education will help all students develop critical thinking skills, language skills, cooperative learning, self-awareness, self-confidence, sensory development (there is multi-sensory art experiences in the creation of art) and manual dexterity (working with a variety of tools and materials).

Understanding Visual ImpairmentsEdit

Studies indicate that 10-20% percent of people considered legally blind are totally without sight, and 20% of school-age children are visually handicapped have no useable vision. However, 80% of visually impaired individuals have some residual vision that can be used in daily activities (Besr & Corn, 1983). This information aids art educators in understanding why the majority of people who are blind are able to respond to some visual stimuli, and why their visual memories act to enhance the creation process. There are three main categories of vision loss: Loss of central vision caused by disease, loss of peripheral vision and or overall blurring or haze. However, we must be mindful that not all visual impairments are the same, for example, in a classroom with all visually impaired students, each student will have individual characteristics to their sight loss or impairment. Student’s functional needs will also vary, some students may use vision for aspects in learning whereas others will not, it is of importance for all educators to familiarize themselves with a students IEP so that they may accommodate their individual needs.

Fostering an Inclusive AtmosphereEdit

In order to implement inclusiveness in the classroom it is important to be aware of any form of stereotyping, for example, blind and visually impaired people relate to the visual arts in a variety of ways, just as sighted people. Some students may enjoy tactile contact with art while others may demonstrate very little interest in touch as a means of artistic or aesthetic experience, regardless of the characteristics or degree of their visual handicapped. Some students learning and appreciation of the arts involve creative process and imagination, rather than merely touch as a means of art education. These student would benefit most by stimulating their visual memory, you can achieve this by describing an event, place or object, which may trigger their memory and personal experiences. Personally, I may evoke this in the students to trigger various levels of emotion, which may allow them to produce astonishing works of art that are highly emotive and self-expressive. According to Rogow (2000) people with visual impairments rely on their environment as a crucial role in providing a means to explore the world around them; when vision is absent language serves as a means to establish and maintain contact with other people. Educators must avoid phrasing instruction with: “This or that, here or there” to avoid confusion, you must be able to communicate with specific verbal instruction, doing this will allow the visually impaired student to feel confident & included in the classroom. Dokecki (1966) states that it is important for teacher to use verbal communication naturally, and not hesitate or avoid using words such as “see” or “look” because visual terms are necessary for all student to have complete competence in language so that they may participate as functional members in society.

Theory: MotivationEdit

Once you establish a friendly and trusting relationship with the student an approach to help motivate them is to build their self-esteem and confidence by sharing with them famous artists that had visual impairments, including but definitely not limited to artists such as: Monet, Van Gogh, Degas and Rembrandt etc.. There are also many contemporary artists with visual impairments that you may wish to invite as guest speakers or to conduct a workshop, perhaps you may even wish to take you class on a field trip to view an exhibition by these artists.

Specific Strategies for the Visual Arts ClassroomEdit

Initially, it is essential to integrate the student with impaired vision into the classroom by describing the configurations of room, if you must change the position of furniture in your classroom remember to describe the new configurations to the student. Teacher should also inform students that use optical devices that they may move closer to diagrams or demonstrations. Educators must also accommodate students by eliminating clutter, placing materials within reach of the student and being mindful of the size, colour and contrast of print on handouts. Lighting is also of importance for students with impaired vision, some may find window glare and light reflecting off shiny surfaces unbearable, to accommodate them you can position demonstrations in other places in the classroom, adjust shades and allow students to move seats if so desired. It is also wise to identify yourself when you approach a visually impaired student as well as seek permission from the student before you physically guide them to an object. Teachers must be mindful that a person classified as legally blind may still have usable vision, in which it does not significantly alter functional ability and it is important to realize that a legally blind person may be able to function visually for a variety of tasks. However, some students with visual impairments may need to look off center to see things more clearly, it is important not to interpreted that as inattention or negatively on the part of the student.

Visual Art teachers may question to what extent a blind person can appreciate and create art and to whether or not they have the necessary knowledge in order to provide the blind or visually impaired student with the best arts education. An educator may inquire- Can blind persons learn about different art styles? Can blind people learn as sighted people do to identify different time periods? Blind people can learn to understand perspective in a tactile drawing, but can they learn to understand perspective in an artwork? Are blind or visually impaired people limited to sculpture or can they learn to draw? What are light, colour and form to a blind person? Perhaps we can better understand a visually impaired or blind person if we attempt to comprehend a glimpse of their experiences. For example, lets us imagine that we are nearsighted and we remove our glasses to watch television, the images are not being viewed as intended by the network but rather the images appear dream-like with patterns and construed colour, for some this may be a negative experience but for the artist, this is a rare and amazing gift. This experience opens the artists up to a world where her or she is able to transform these experiences into personal interpretation based on only how they see the world. Parents and arts educators should encourage this and assist the students by stimulating their visual memory and or emotions. People that are blind or visually impaired have the ability to draw quite accurately; they are able to transfer knowledge from exploring the world around them to depicting vantage point and perspective in their artwork. For e.g., they are able to understand and draw the side-view and top-view of a vehicle and they can identify foreground and background- they know that the girl standing in front of the tree is larger in the picture plane then objects in the distance. Revensz (1950) concluded that people with visual impairments do have some form of spatial perception, which was based on the records from Von Senden’s 1932 study of people with visual impairments (pp.86). However, Revensz also proposed that people with visual impairments cannot “properly” perceive beauty or create artistic images (pp87). Quite frankly, I find that statement rather appalling because his definition of beauty and creation is defined by the sightless person not being able create works of art based on their inability to see object’s in this world of all it’s beauty, nature & glory. He states that the blind person is limited to only the “material sphere” but who is to say that beauty can only be expressed through ones visual experiences, on the contraire I believe what restricts many artists in the creation process is over-analyzation, responding with minimal sight to a stimulus can inspire remarkable works of art that are beautiful, memorable and emotionally compelling! “Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things” (Degas).

Equipment, Material & Instructional SuggestionsEdit

Other things to consider is equipment and materials in the classroom, such as: enlarging devices, magnifying lens, three-dimensional Marquette’s and tactile materials such as drawing boards (which add great tactile and/ textural elements to the composition), raised-line paper, raised-line drawings of images, diagrams, charts & illustrations. Raised-line drawings will assist the teacher in explaining art history to the blind or visually impaired student. The use of visual storyboards and technological aids may enhance the concept of the lesson or demonstration. When teaching painting, place colour in the same order on the palette from left to right- white, yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, green, brown and black. Use non-spill containers for liquid mediums and place paint containers in a narrow lipped tray, organize all dry mediums (For e.g., Conte, pastel, colour pencils etc.) in a specific order and keep all heat emitting equipment in a safe and controlled area away form traffic zones. Students that are blind or visually impaired enjoy working with high contrast mediums, so it is feasible to have some bright paint available. Lastly, check frequently for the student’s comprehension as instruction proceeds and be mindful of background noises that can make instruction inaudible.


Students with special needs will enter our classrooms, we as Art Educators need to share our passion for the arts with these students, often these learners are “overlooked” or “worked around” because of our lack of tools or knowledge, however the best way to inquire this knowledge is to get to know our students, to further educate ourselves of their needs as well as to encourage them to expressed themselves and to take risks in their work. Art educators need to provide blind and visual impaired children with the same opportunities as their peers, by being mindful of any stereotyping, by teaching them art skills, by exposing them to a variety of mediums and through teaching them about great art in order to encourage art appreciation and a love for life-long learning.

Work CitedEdit

Axel, E. & Levent, N. (2003) Art Beyond Sight: A Resource Guide to Art, Creativity, and Visual Impairment. American Foundation for the Blind, Retrieved from, 32+article+by+Von+Senden&source=web&ots=YjeF_cHyHN&sig=CW1bSBbK 2obBCkPGH0EXE5zMBI4&hl=en#PPA86,M1

Pearce, W. (2007) Serving the Arts Educator of Pennsylvania. NY: Keystone Arts Education Network, Retrieved from,


American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)

Art Education for the Blind (AEB)

The Rhythmic Arts Project

National Federation for the Blind (NFB)

American Printing House for the Blind (APH)

The National Centre for Tactile Diagrams

Koenig, A. & Holbrook, M. (2000) Foundations of Education, Instructional Strategies for Teaching Children and Youths with Visual Impairments. AFB Press, Retrieved from, visual+impairments+foundation+of+education&source=web&ots=p80aXHeLwk&sig=Y hb0huEjgYQ1KNHCG-_Bmqar5jA#PPP1,M1

--SuzieQ (talk) 00:20, 15 April 2008 (UTC)



Being an arts educator to special needs students is both a rewarding and challenging task. Teaching the arts, specifically music, can be a motivating and fun way to teach all children, especially those with distinct learning needs. Essentially, the purpose of this paper is to show the benefits of teaching the arts, in specifically music, to students with special needs, to express the importance of creating an inclusive environment in the classroom, and to also discuss certain strategies, resources, and ideas to use in the secondary school level to help special learners succeed.

The Importance of Learning MusicEdit

It is important to note the benefits that learning music can have on a child’s growth and development. Firstly, music has been shown to help students who are cognitively challenged. For example, learning through songs works as a mnemonic device to assist in memory and learning by organizing and breaking down information into pieces, thus, making it easier for a student to retain and encode what they are learning (Lazar, 2008) . Thus, when teaching a student a concept such as the alphabet, the months in a given year, or a historical figure, if taught through a song, there is a greater chance that students will learn and retain these concepts easier. Teaching music has also been shown to benefit students with communication barriers. Essentially, singing and speech share many similarities because when a person sings, this requires them to use their speech as well. For example, songs of varying lengths can increase the duration of a child’s speech, while rhythm can be used as a timing cue to aid in speech pacing and intelligibility (Lazar, 2008). Thus, music can be used as a means to improve a student’s functional communication. Lastly, learning music has been shown improve and develop a child’s gross motor skills. Research shows that basic skill areas such as visual-motor integration, bilateral integration, imitating movement, or crossing midline can be targeted with rhythmic activities (Lazar, 2008). For example, learning a particular dance style, or learning songs such as The Hokey Pokey, provide opportunities for the growth and development of a variety of motor skills. Thus, the aforementioned information exhibits how music can positively impact a child's growth and development.

Fostering an Inclusive EnvironmentEdit

When teaching special needs students, it is crucial for an educator to foster inclusion in the classroom. Implementing an inclusive atmosphere allows all students to feel valued, included, and appreciated. There are a variety of considerations for inclusion in the classroom that educators should be accustomed to. Firstly, it is crucial for an educator to know their students. For example, if a student has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), it is imperative for an educator to read through that student’s IEP and find out as much about the student’s disability as possible. From this, an educator can deduce what services the student might need in the classroom, what the strengths and weakness of the student are, etc. Also, it is important for educators to know their colleagues and the Special Ed staff within the school. Resources such as these can offer a wealth of strategies pertaining to how certain students learn best, and also how to interact with particular students. Thus, by researching and examining the disabilities of students in the classroom, an educator can make the proper accommodations and modifications which will not only ensure student success, but will also create an inclusive environment.

Theory: MotivationEdit

There are a variety of specific strategies that a secondary school educator can utilize in order to meet both the needs and interests of special learners in the classroom. For example, if an educator comes across a student with a physical disability, how would they go about choosing a suitable instrument for them to play? When selecting musical instruments for students with special needs, as with any other student, it is crucial for an educator to be aware of what motivates and interests the student. This is a most important factor when choosing suitable instruments, because special learners will often overcome enormous odds when they are determined and inspired to do something (Hammel, 2004). Also, when learning a new musical instrument, especially if no prior knowledge in music is evident, motivation and persistence are both essential. Thus, when students are motivated, there is a greater chance that they will succeed which is why an educator must ask themselves, “What instrument holds the most attraction for the particular student?

Specific Strategies for the Music ClassroomEdit

Although motivation is key in terms of choosing a suitable instrument for an exceptional learner, depending on the student's needs, there may be a limit as to what instrument that student can play. This is why exceptional learners need to be individually evaluated to determine both instrument preference and instrument suitability related to their particular disability. Nonetheless, there are a variety of instruments that can be adapted to suit the needs of all students. For example, the piano can be adapted for one-handed players. Essentially, a pianist who uses one hand will need music that combines the melody line with the accompaniment. Fortunately, there is a vast selection of repertoire of music available for left-, or right-handed piano players. Although standard brass instruments such as the trumpet are played right-handed, it is possible for it to be played left-handed. In essence, only one hand is involved in forming the notes of the trumpet, whereas the other is used to support the instrument. Thus, to compensate for this, all the teacher has to do is provide music stand which in turn, would support the instrument. Lastly, stringed instruments can be adapted for one-handed players. This can be done by playing with the bow in the left hand, and also, by bowing with a prosthesis. Thus, when selecting instruments for students with special needs, it is crucial for an educator to be open-minded and accommodating.

Lastly, there are a variety of ways to adapt and modify specific music for students with visual and learning disabilities. For example, one way a piece of music can be altered is to have the student highlight the alternate staves. Doing this would benefit a student with a visual impairment, or one with a learning disability who has trouble processing and following information. Another way to modify a piece of music would be to write out all of the accidentals found within the key signature in front of the corresponding note(s). This would be beneficial to a student who is cognitively challenged and has difficulty perceiving organizing information, as well as linking specific details together. In more extreme cases, a final option would be to simplify the music by including only two or three notes. The educator could then gradually add the rest of the notes onto the music once the student progresses and feels comfortable. Thus, there are a variety of ways in which an educator can modify a specific piece of music to suit the learning needs of his/her students.


Therefore, the aforementioned information clearly shows how an educator can integrate, accommodate, and include special learners into a High school music classroom. Moreover, one can see the importance that learning music can have on a student’s growth and development. Also, the abovementioned information shows how many things in the music classroom, such as instruments, and the music itself, can be adapted and modified to suit the needs of special learners. Doing this would allow special learners to experience and feel a sense of belonging and inclusion in the classroom. Thus, although teaching and integrating special needs students into the classroom can be a challenging task, the rewards of seeing those students succeed despite the odds, significantly outweigh the challenges that the teacher and student could experience.

Works CitedEdit

Hammel, Alice M. "Instrumental: Choosing an Instrument." Teaching Special Learners in the Classroom. 2004. 23 Feb. 2008 <>.

Lazar, Michelle. "Benefits of Music for Children with Special Needs: Tips for Parents and Educators." United Cerebral Palsy (UCP). 2008. 06 Apr. 2008 <>.

Resources for the Music ClassroomEdit


  1. – Teaching Special Learners in the Music Classroom
  2. – The National Association for Music Education
  3. – American Therapy Associate (AMTA)
  4. – The Council for Exceptional Children
  5. – sources of Braille books and music
  6. – Meeting Special Needs in the Music Classroom: A Problem Solving Approach
  7.,%20Sarah/M%20E%20J%20Articles/1-Optional/Instrumental%20Music%20for%20Special%20Learners.pdf – Instrumental Music for Special Learners


  1. Teaching Music to the Exceptional Child – R. Graham and A. Beer
  2. Mainstreaming Exceptional Learners in Music – B. Atterbury
  3. Music for All: Teaching Music to People with Special Needs. – L. Birkenshaw-Fleming
  4. Learning through Music: Music Therapy Strategies for Special Education, volumes 1 and 2. – K. Coleman & D. Dacus
  5. Music for All: Teaching Music to People with Special Needs – Lois Birkenshaw-Fleming
  6. Adapting Music Instruments for the Physically Handicapped – Donna Chadwick and Cynthia Clark.
  7. Guide to the Selection of Musical Imtmments with Respect to Physical Ability and Disability – Barbara Elliot
  8. Effect of Colored Rhythmic Notation on Music-Reading Skills of Elementary Students – George L Rogers
  9. A Sound Approach to Teaching Instrumentalists – Stanley L Schleuter
  10. TIPS: Teaching Music to Special Learners – Gail Schlaberg

--Colillis (talk) 00:44, 15 April 2008 (UTC)