Who Else Wants to Better Serve Their Students With Special Needs?

A group of students walk into your room, eager to begin art class, when one of the students comes up to you, thrusts a chart in your face and says “Here, you have to fill this out.” YIKES! No heads up! No warning! No clue what to do with this (sticker, smiley face, token system) chart.

We know there are great systems in our schools to help students that have behavioral, social or academic special needs succeed within the school day, but sometimes the art teacher is the last to know.

How do we understand and adapt for ALL learners in the classroom?  We can’t always wait to be invited to an IEP meeting (like never!) or wait for a meeting to be scheduled by our special needs teacher with us (gasp – does this actually happen?). Everyone is busy, but you have a right to know and understand what is going on in the lives students who need a little something extra to succeed in the classroom. Sometimes we must take matters in our own hands, get inventive, and use one of our best assets, our INSTINCT to better serve our students.

All product / image links embedded below
All product / image links embedded below

I had a chance to talk with Kathy (who is the art educator/inventor behind this weeks’ giveaway) and she and I brainstormed some great ideas to help you think differently about how you approach serving special needs students in your art room.

Here are some creative ways to innovate in order to reach leaners in your classroom.

1. Start by what ISN’T working. Is the crayon constantly rolling into the lap of your student in a wheelchair? Get crayons that aren’t cylindrical shaped so they stay on the table. Is the glue bottle frustrating a student to the point of tears? It may not be worth it. Try a glue sponge instead! Tiny tweaks can make or break the art experience for some students.

2. Research Universal Design (UD). This philosophy in education believes in setting up parameters so ALL students can be successful without traditional ‘adaptions.’ Everyone can be successful with the same tools! This is good stuff!

3. Look Around You. In the supermarket, in the gym, in your home. Are there tools around you that you can grab and use in the art room in new ways? How about loading up scrub brushes meant for dishes with paint and letting a student with limited fine motor skills use them as a painting tool?

4. Learn about new products – Did you know they make glue bottles that act like bingo daubers? It’s hard to find time to dive deep enough into the catalog or ask the special needs teacher what they use in the gen ed classroom. Don’t take for granted those smarties who have come before you and thought of something inventive to help assist students.

4. ASK! Instead of waiting around and huffing and puffing that no one ever includes you on important matters, YOU set up a meeting with THEM to get your questions answered. I had a school nurse who sat down with me and went over every.single.kid’s health issues. Did I need to know that Timmy got a sliver last year? No. But it was very helpful to know about sight issues (seat them in front) or bathroom issues (let them go RIGHT AWAY).

5. Invent something yourself. Do like Kathy, and think beyond what exists. Even if you have to jerry rig it up in your garage, make something special for your students that you KNOW will work better than the ‘one size fits all’ alternatives that currently exist.

Remember to use the rest of your right brain. You are an inventor, a creator, and can leverage this within your own classroom to shape the experience for your students for the better.

What are some tried and true ideas you have for reaching out and better understanding the needs of your students? 

Any closet inventors out there? Tell us about it!




Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is AOEU’s Founder and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.

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