By Lillian Brooks, founder of learningdisabilities.info. Lillian has many years working as a special education teacher with a focus on teaching children with learning disabilities. She created learningdisabilities.info to offer information and understanding to parents of children with learning disabilities, as well as adults who are in need of continued support in order to succeed.
Whether it’s music, painting, or dance, getting involved in the arts from an early age can help foster children’s creativity, mental abilities, and social skills. The same is true for children with special needs, who benefit even more from the arts’ positive neurological effects. It can be difficult, though, for parents to initially get their children with learning disabilities involved with the arts. Here are a few ways you can get started.
Why Should Children with Disabilities Get Involved with the Arts?
All children can benefit from the sense of accomplishment provided by artistic endeavors. However, you should choose the type of art carefully according to your child’s abilities. Keep in mind, though, that different arts may help develop skills that are currently lacking (for instance, dance can double as physical therapy for less mobile children and playing a musical instrument can develop precise motor skills).
Involvement in the arts has been proven to help children in all other parts of life, including academics and social skills. The process of creation minimizes stress, which enhances the ability to learn. With special needs children, it can be even more effective, as the arts can boost procedural memory, which helps with basic skills and motions. Finally, group activities, like theatre or dance classes, can help provide social acceptance, which is critical both for cognitive development and general contentment.
Tips for Parents When Starting Out
Particularly when your child is just starting out, always be positive. Harsh criticism will turn them away from the arts, but gentle encouragement and genuine excitement will help to foster their enthusiasm. Also, keep in mind that creativity takes many forms; for instance, if you ask your child to paint a flower, celebrate your child’s creativity if he chooses to draw an entire garden instead. Make sure that the supplies are ergonomically friendly if your child needs additional support. The fewer roadblocks your child has in getting set up, the freer he will be to create.
Discover the Benefits of Textile Arts
Although this might be difficult for some people to believe, getting involved in textile arts (sewing, knitting, crocheting, etc.) is an excellent way to introduce your child to a new skill while incorporating an outlet for creativity. In addition to allowing children to express themselves in very unique ways, textile arts also provide a sensory experience while teaching them dexterity and developing their ability to follow directions and solve problems. There are several free online guides available to help you get started on this journey.
Use Music to Involve the Senses
Children with disabilities often have difficulty expressing themselves. With a musical instrument, however, they can communicate emotions at a deeper level. Playing music is also a multi-sensory process; particularly if your child is on the autism spectrum, they may experience great benefits from exploring different forms of sensory play. Musical instruments engage their sense of touch (like in the cool wood of a violin or the metallic slickness of a xylophone), motor abilities (playing a drum requires up-down movements while strings require horizontal motions and precise fingerings), sound (the warm reediness of a clarinet versus a shrill, smooth recorder), and sight. You can help your child by exploring different instruments and the sounds they make.
When choosing an instrument for your child, keep in mind their personality and motor capabilities. Percussion instruments require less manual dexterity but help develop a sense of rhythm, whereas stringed instruments are more melodic and involve fine motor skills. Above all, your child’s preference is most important. Try out an assortment of instruments and see if they gravitate to a particular type of instrument.
Develop Spatial Awareness Through Dance
Dance is another way to develop a sense of space and movement. Motion is at the heart of dance, so dance classes may be a good way for children with motor difficulties to begin to explore movement. Since dance classes are usually group sessions, they also help develop a sense of social support, as well as confidence through recitals.
Remember, show your child several different types of art and see if they are more drawn to one or the other. By giving them the power of choice, you will start out in the right direction for lifelong creativity.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com