This week we’re looking at how teachers and TAs can support pupils with SEN in art lessons, as well as how art therapy can be used to help individual children with emotional, social and behavioural difficulties

Support for SENCOs

Supporting pupils in art
Art and design can be an important area for pupils with difficulties and disabilities of all kinds, identifying previously hidden abilities they may possess and providing opportunities for enjoyment and achievement that can be missing from other areas of the curriculum. An often-used example is the dyslexic child who possesses outstanding artistic skill − important to keep in mind when deciding on ‘withdrawal timetables’: it can sometimes be tempting to schedule ‘catch-up’ work during art and design lessons rather then risking a child falling behind with more academic subjects − but there is an obvious flaw in this thinking.

The development of the senses is central to art and design, using sight, touch, emotional response and intellect to learn about different elements of visual language: line, colour, texture, shape, form and space. For pupils with SEN, as with all pupils, personal experience and personal response might be a starting point for any activity. Direct handling and manipulation of materials build on a child’s natural interest in shape, colour, rhythm and movement and can lead naturally into developing skills and confidence. For this to happen, though, careful planning must take place in order to ensure that there is success in all activities, commensurate with each pupil’s level of development and ability.

Long-term planning should take account of different learning styles and include a good variety of skills: drawing, painting, printing, collage, 3D, textiles, information gathering and ICT. Important points for planning inclusive art and design lessons include:

  • providing opportunities for learners to use all their senses
  • using a wide range of activities/materials
  • helping pupils to manage their behaviour by setting out clear expectations and engaging them in practical work which ensures success
  • nurturing a sense of achievement
  • acknowledging and celebrating even tiny steps of progress.

For lots of practical ideas on teaching art and design to pupils with SEN, see Meeting SEN in the Curriculum: Art by Kim Earle and Gill Curry: David Fulton publishers.

An essential element of art and design teaching is the creation of a degree of uncertainty, a chance for pupils to discover for themselves the potential of materials and processes within a carefully structured and safe environment. Material and equipment must be appropriate for children and young people with limited fine motor control and manual dexterity, and there should be provision for individuals who need non-sighted methods such as Braille for acquiring information, or a means of communication other than speech (assistive technology, signing, symbols). Bear in mind that pupils on the autistic spectrum may dislike the feel of some materials − for some youngsters this may be a strong aversion.

Safety tips

  • Remind pupils of particular safety pointers at the beginning of each lesson, both verbally and visually.
  • Provide a variety of scissors: round-ended, left/right handed.
  • Use washable PVA glue where possible, or a low-temperature electric glue gun (PVA can also be used as a safer substitute for varnish).
  • Use water-based and non-toxic printing inks.
  • Try using reflective plastic tiles instead of mirrors which need more careful handling.
  • Provide gloves and goggles to wear when using chicken wire, willow or canes.
  • Tape down all flexes to avoid accidents.
  • Ensure close supervision when using hot wax (batik) and sharp tools for cutting doweling, etc.

Art therapy

The profession of art therapy has developed considerably in recent years and now several universities offer training in art psychotherapy at postgraduate level. Art therapists are trained in the psychology of mark making and symbolism, in non-verbal communication, psychotherapeutic understanding of child development and family dynamics, and the importance of boundaries. Their work is based on the recognition that image making can be extremely powerful in helping people to deal with issues that are hard to verbalise: ‘Art therapy has been very good for me because I am dyslexic. I found it hard to write things down, doing art, it has helped me to explain things better. It has given me more time to try and understand my feelings past, present and future. Sometimes negative things come out for you and you may not like them and may not know how to deal with it. I think art therapy can help you overcome them.’

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2008

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.