Music and the arts are the cornerstones to any child’s growth and development. They are known to promote creativity, improve motor skills, and boost self-esteem. For children with special needs, they also offer an alternative way for them to connect with the world and a new form of expression. Though it may take some extra effort to encourage your child to get involved with the arts, it is well worth it.
1. Encourage Exploration
The best way to encourage your child to get involved with the arts is to let them explore and experiment on their own. Many disabled and special needs children find this approach relaxing, and can use it as a means of expression. Let art be about the process, not the end result. If a child senses your frustration or impatience, they may become anxious and shut down. That is the last thing you want.
Instead, practice patience and positivity. Give them extra time to complete a project, and do not force them to follow instructions to the letter. When they have finished a project, PBS recommends you avoid asking, “What is it?” Rather, describe what you see. “I really like this triangle shape here,” or, “What a great shade of blue you chose!” With older children, you can prod them to think deeper about their art by asking them to describe what they did.
2. Adapt Lessons and Materials
It’s not uncommon for children with disabilities to be shy and embarrassed about asking for help. Be ready to step in when necessary. You may have to come up with multiple ways to describe the instructions and adapt them to their specific needs. For example, you should use sign language for those that are hearing impaired, or let visually impaired kids touch objects as you describe the project.
Certain disabilities may require you to get hands on. Modify as many materials as necessary, such as using pre-cut paper for those with impaired motor skills. A child with severe motor skill problems may require you to physically complete projects for them. In this scenario, be sure to let them take the lead and instruct you on how they want things to be placed.
3. Find Interesting Textures
Take advantage of children’s natural curiosity to engage their senses. Many kids find working with their hands to be therapeutic. Using items like clay, beads, yarn, and dough can improve motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Try using different textured textiles in a beginner-friendly sewing project. Completing a functional piece, such as a pillow or bag, is also a great way to give them a sense of accomplishment.
Keep in mind that some kids have sensory aversion issues. If they encounter a sound or texture they do not like, they may act out. Do not punish them for this; they do not yet know how to properly express their discomfort. Instead, be ready to pivot to a different activity to distract them.
4. Listen to the Beat
Music can be an excellent tool in promoting your child’s cognitive development and improving their focus, particularly in children with ADHD and learning disabilities. Learning percussion instruments has been proven the most effective for special needs children, and also helps improve motor skills.
If you worry about your child’s social skills, dancing is an excellent way to encourage social behavior, according to My Child Without Limits. Being in a dance class is an excellent way to teach them social awareness while being a great form of exercise. Let them cut loose and express themselves.
All children can benefit from getting involved in music and the arts. The key to encouraging this exploration is by taking a step back. While they may need help now and again, let this be their space to relax and express themselves. Successfully encouraging this behavior can lead to a lifelong passion.
Lillian Brooks is the founder of learningdisabilities.info. For years, Lillian worked 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.
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