Five Tips for Working with Families of Students with Disabilities

By Alyson M. Martin, Ed.D. and Emily R. Shamash, Ed.D.

Effective communication is the foundation for promoting an enduring trust between families and educational professionals, including arts educators. It is trust that is imperative for successful long-term partnerships between families and educators to enhance the teaching, learning, and progress of students with disabilities (Cox, 2005; Dunst, 2002; Turnbull et al, 2011; Wellner, 2012).

The tips below include guidelines for communicating effectively with families of children with disabilities in order to initiate and maintain positive and collaborative working relationships in and out of the arts classroom.

 

  1. Initiate contact before it is a necessity. It is crucial that we build a trend of positive contact with families prior to contacting them about a problem with their child. Ensure families have information about what is happening with their student; some parents/caregivers may not be aware an in-school arts residency is happening in their child’s classroom. You can set a positive tone on the first day of a program by sending a brief personal email or note introducing yourself to parents/caregivers and letting them know how their child’s first day went.

 

  1. Always begin with the positive. All students have positive attributes and have skills that are worthy of praise. Be careful not to define your students by their weaknesses, but rather what they do well. Always share something positive with families prior to sharing negative reports or feedback. This is important when writing reports, reporting progress/updates at a meeting, and when sending emails or notes home. This will set the stage for establishing a positive and trusting relationship with each family.

 

  1. Keep parents in the know. Providing parents with information about their child’s progress can empower them to be true team members and can help eliminate mistrust. Doing this does not need to be extremely time consuming; you can simply send parents a brief email or a note weekly or bi-weekly reporting something positive and providing suggestions for a skill that can be worked on at home. If your program happens at your own arts venue, be sure to alert parents of important events or changes to their child’s day such as a schedule change, staff change, new behavior plan, field trips, special classroom events, and/or significant behavioral occurrences (this can be positive behavior too).

 

  1. Invite carryover, but do not expect it. It is wonderful when families can carryover skills worked on in the arts classroom at home. However, we need to remember that families often have more than one child, busy schedules, and outside stressors. It can be helpful to ask parents what types of activities are easiest for them to do at home. Then you can offer ideas and strategies tailored to each family’s needs.

 

  1. Our students are not the only ones who benefit from positive reinforcement. Parents need positive reinforcement too! Praise parents and primary caregivers for how they are supporting their child and point out successes big or small. We all need encouragement, motivation, and support, including families of students with disabilities.

 

Emily Shamash, Ed.D., is a Visiting Assistant Professor and Co-director of the Special Education Program in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professionals at Fairfield University. She is a certified special educator who specializes in working with children with autism spectrum disorders and their families. Alyson Martin, Ed.D., is an Assistant Professor and Co-director of the Special Education Program in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professionals at Fairfield University. She is also a certified special education teacher. Together, Dr. Martin and Dr. Shamash have over 25 years of experiences working with children and families of children with disabilities in school, home and community settings.

Advertisements

Five Tips for Art Teachers Working with Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

By Bev Johns

Estimates show that 46 million children are impacted every year by trauma. The content and processes of art education can play a vital role in the education of children who have experienced trauma, are at-risk, are homeless, and/or are incarcerated. As educators, we must be very sensitive to the needs of children who have experienced trauma and better understand why they may behave in the way they do.

In order to establish positive rapport and to meet the needs of children who have experienced trauma, we must gather as much information as possible about what types of trauma they may have experienced. That may be possible because we have learned about their background or the child has told us. However in some cases we may not know what has happened to the child until an incident occurs and we investigate what may have caused him or her to behave in a particular way.

1. Learn as much as you can about the child’s background without being invasive with the child. We must be careful that we are not asking too many questions of the child. They may be guarded and afraid that someone will find out something that will get them into trouble. Art teachers can learn a great deal through observations, keeping their eyes and ears open, talking to previous educators, and reading past records. We must be vigilant and when students have unusual reactions to specific events or rooms or noises, we need to explore the reasons for those reactions.

When children build trust with the art teacher, then they may give verbal or non-verbal clues about their behavior. Teachers must be good detectives to determine what is happening with the student. You may learn that you or your colleagues remind the child of the person who abused them, or trigger another traumatic memory.

2. Avoid surprises with children who have experienced trauma. Remember that they are on heightened alert and are worried about what might be happening next so we should not come up from behind students. In some cases we may want to seat these children so that no one is behind them. While some teachers like to turn lights off when children become noisy, this isn’t advisable for some children that were locked in a dark room. A high level of noise might trigger a reaction from a child because he remembers the loud noise when his brother was shot on the street in front of his house.

3. When planning activities, think ahead about what impact the activity might have on the student. Even activities that an art educator might perceive as straightforward or simple can become loaded due to a child’s traumatic experience. Offer choices to students about what they can create to help avoid triggering bad memories. For instance, children who have been recently removed from their families or placed in foster care might struggle with assignments that involve drawing or painting their family; it is helpful to offer another option for the assignment.

4. When planning activities, be cautious about the materials you use. The child may have been hurt with a particular object so you would want to avoid an activity where the same object is used. The child may have limited clothing or may have been beaten if their clothes got dirty. In that case, the art teacher will want to provide students the option of wearing protective clothing when utilizing art materials that may get on clothes.

5. Make sure that your art room is a safe and happy place for the child. Create an environment in the art room where lots of positive feedback is given, the child is recognized for his or her strengths, and the child knows that the teacher will not allow them to be bullied in any way. The teacher must be supportive and engage in active listening with the student. Rather than devaluing what the child says, gather more information. When the child says, “I can’t do that,” the teacher can say, “How can I help you?” When the child says, “This is too hard,” the teacher can say, “Can you tell me why,” or “Let’s try this together.”

The art room is the place where there are no right or wrong answers, It is a place where children have multiple opportunities to be creative, express their feelings, and experience success.

Photo of a smiling woman with short, blonde hair wearing a red jacket, black shirt, and round gold earrings.

 

Bev Johns is a Professional Fellow at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois. She has worked with children with significant emotional and behavioral disorders for over 35 years and is the author of 20 books in the area of special education.

Helping Arts Educators Understand and Prepare for a Spectrum of Traumatic Experiences

Research shows that traumatic experiences impact a child’s ability to learn and process information, and traumatic experiences can affect student behavior in and out of the classroom. Unfortunately, educators are often unaware of which students have experienced trauma; this is especially true for arts educators, who may have limited access to student IEPs or knowledge of social/emotional concerns that impact students’ lives. But according to Dr. Lisa Kay, Chair of the Art Education and Community Arts Practices Department at Tyler School of Art/Temple University, art teachers and teaching artists can prepare for and better serve students who have experienced trauma by learning more about the spectrum of trauma and its invisible effects.

Photo of a smiling woman with white hair, wearing a gray jacket and silver pendant necklace. Photo credit: Amy Ragsdale

Dr. Lisa Kay

“I say there is a ‘spectrum of trauma’ because when we think of trauma, we often think of a dark place, things like physical or sexual abuse, but trauma for a child can also be the loss of a parent. It can be divorce,” says Kay, who has over thirty years of experience as an art therapist and art educator. She adds that trauma can be compounded by things like poverty or disability, adding to the spectrum of experiences.

Kay says that one of the most important things an art educator can do in preparation for working with students who have experienced trauma is to recognize that we have all experienced trauma of some sort in our lives. She explains, “Understanding that we have all experienced trauma and witnessed resilience helps develop compassion and empathy for our students. It also makes the idea of working with students who have experienced trauma less daunting.”

For teaching artists who may be entering the classroom with little or no information about the students they are teaching, Kay offers a few practical suggestions. “Think about how you move around students. It is never a good idea to come from the back and hand materials over a student’s head because that can seem scary,” she says. Kay also encourages teaching artists to find support in the classroom teacher. “Ask questions,” she urges, “Is there anything you need to know about this class or a particular student?”

Arts educators should be prepared to make accommodations and modifications to their lessons when working with students who have experienced trauma. “We may want to ask questions differently or assess students differently,” explains Kay. She also points out that students who have experienced trauma may need more physical and emotional space than their peers, and emphasizes the importance of listening to them and allowing them that space.

Kay has a background in fine art and design, and when asked if she recommends any lessons that work well with students who have experienced trauma, she immediately mentions bead collages. “With bead collages, or story beads, students create a wearable piece, three dimensional object, or even a small installation using beads and found objects together to tell a story,” she describes. Kay adds that while the final piece is often very pleasing for a student to see, the tactile process of putting it together is equally satisfying. She explains, “The objects can help children connect to deeper meanings. Plus, the process is easily adapted for different ages and abilities, and the materials, things like costume jewelry and recycled materials, are easily accessible.”

Working with students who have experienced trauma can be challenging for an arts educator, but an arts classroom can also be where that child finds compassion, creative growth, and a stronger sense of self. “As arts teachers, we must be as supportive as we can of our students,” encourages Kay, “and try to remember that we are all part of a collective spectrum of trauma.”

 

Dr. Lisa Kay is Chair of the Art Education and Community Arts Practices Department at Tyler School of Art/Temple University. She is a contributor to Art for Children Experiencing Psychological Trauma (pub. April 2018) and is writing on a book entitled Therapeutic Approaches to Arts Education (anticipated pub. late 2018).

Using Art Education Effectively with Students who have Experienced Trauma

A photo of a woman with long, brown hair and dark rimmed glasses, wearing a short sleeved lavender shirt and chunky beaded necklace.

Donalyn Heise

In over 30 years of teaching visual art classes in K-12 settings, one student from early in Donalyn Heise’s career continues to drive her work. “This student made the top grade in every art assignment I gave, but I failed him as a teacher because I had no idea he was flunking out of school,” says Heise. She later learned that the student’s sister had committed suicide, and that he seldom attended classes or handed in assignments outside of art. This experience drove Heise to focus her own pedagogy on what she calls a “resilience framework,” using art education as a platform to help students thrive.

Many children experience psychological trauma, to include natural or environmental disasters, domestic or societal violence, bullying, homelessness, human trafficking, or rejection of sexual identity. Heise cites research by William Steele (2002), who found that youth who experience trauma may have emotional, mental, behavioral, and physical challenges that make them less likely to succeed in school.

Inspired by her early-career experience, Heise began to search for ways to use art education to help students who have experienced trauma thrive. She focused her classes not on the students’ trauma, but on ways to strengthen their resilience. Heise is quick to point out that her work is not art therapy, but teaching the content of the art project along with mastery of the technique. She explains, “We can teach landscape, shading, other artistic techniques along with how to use art to be a student’s visual voice.”

35 paper quilts are lined up together in 4 rows (3 rows of 9, 1 row of 8). The quilts are many colors, but mostly blue, yellow, pink, purple, and orange.

A display of paper quilts created in one of Donalyn Heise’s art classes.

One visual art activity Heise uses within her resilience framework is making paper quilts. In the lesson, students draw or paint 3”x3” paper squares while listening to different pieces of music. They discuss repetition in terms of the quilt patterns, and also reflect on the things in our lives that need to be repeated and those which do not.

After creating many squares, the students exchange them with their classmates; the squares which are exchanged form the outside border of each person’s quilt. For their center square, Heise asks students to think about a challenging time in their life (but not to draw it or say it aloud), then tells them to draw their source of strength in that challenging time. “Their strength is at the center of the quilt, and they are surrounded by their community, through the classmates’ squares,” she says, adding that the quilts can be brought together for a large display, but can also be taken apart so that students can take their individual quilt home.

Heise emphasizes the importance of trying to structure one’s art education practice to reach every student, regardless of his or her ability level or personal experience. One method she suggests is to offer many choice-based adaptations in the art classroom, and to offer the adaptations to every student. “I recommend having all the students try out adaptive tools, then allow them to opt in or out of using them. The same goes for other types of scaffolds: I make sure they are offered to every student. This helps reduce judgments and blurs the lines of disability,” says Heise.

Ultimately, Heise aims to help students feel safe and successful in the routines and materials found in the visual art classroom. She says, “By teaching flexibility, mastery of something, and a vision of the future throughout our art lessons, we help students articulate and celebrate their strengths and points of joy.” Through the resilience framework, Heise hopes to teach students both artistic technique and the valuable, intangible properties of the arts.

 

Donalyn Heise will co-present a session entitled “Using Art to Reach Students Who Have Experienced Trauma” with Adrienne D. Hunter and Beverley Holden Johns at the 2017 VSA Intersections: Art and Special Education Conference.

5 Reasons to Attend the 2017 VSA Intersections Conference

There are lots of reasons to attend the Kennedy Center’s VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Brand New Content

We have tons of new sessions that you won’t want to miss! Here is sampling of what we have planned:

  • It Takes a Village: Inclusive Community Music Programming
  • Teaching Students with Disabilities Using Puppets
  • Blackness, Disability, and Higher Education
  • Using Art to Reach Students Who Have Experienced Trauma
  • The Power Of West African Drumming For Students With Disabilities
  • What’s New? A Fresh Look At Paraprofessionals And Peers As Support For Students With Disabilities

Browse the full schedule here.

Close up of microphone in concert hall or conference room

2. Keynote Speaker: Antoine Hunter

The Keynote address will challenge attendees to question how teacher perception of disability affects student expectations and to envision a classroom environment in which every student is empowered to achieve at high levels. In this address, Mr. Antoine Hunter—an award-winning African-American Deaf producer, choreographer, film/theater actor, dancer, dance instructor, model, poet, speaker, mentor, Deaf advocate, and the 2017 King of San Francisco Carnaval—will offer perspective from his own experiences as a Deaf artist and provide insights into how those experiences have shaped his current teaching practice.

Antione Hunter 33 cropped

3. Get Inspired Before the New Year Begins

It’s the beginning of summer break and you just want to lay at the pool, spend time with your family, and rest your mind before the new school year begins. We know it’s hard to think ahead to the end of summer. But the VSA Intersections Conference is a great way to get re-energized and inspired, so you can bring new creative ideas to the 2017-2018 year.

IMG_0099 cropped low

4. Grow Your Peer and Resources Network

Meet experts and newcomers to the field and grow your relationships with other educators passionate about arts education for students with disabilities. Everyone conference is a different experience and there are plenty of opportunities to mingle with other participants.

IMG_0797 cropped

5. Explore all that Austin has to Offer

A change of location can inspire you to think differently. Join us in Texas and explore all the art and creativity that it’s capital city has to offer. During the conference, you’ll hear from Austin-based arts organizations such as MINDPOP and VSA Texas.

Austin skyline low

We hope you’ll be able to join us as we dig deeper into the critical relationship of arts and education through new content, an amazing keynote speaker, and plenty of learning and fun.  The 2017 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference is taking place August 6-7, 2017 in Austin, Texas. Register by June 30 for the lowest rate.

VSA Intersections is a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program.

In Amazement Square art program, students ask, “How Can I Help?”

A girl with black hair and a burgandy sweatshirt holds an art project made of cardboard boxes.

A student from the Amazement Square program shows off her creation.

Students who live in rural areas may not have access to the same kinds of cultural resources as their peers in metropolitan areas. For their VSA Visual Arts Discovery Program contract, staff at Amazement Square in Lynchburg, Virginia, sought out students with disabilities living in more isolated areas. Thanks to Amazement Square’s teaching artists and their expertise in using the museum’s Visual Arts Outreach Program framework, students with disabilities all over Central Virginia are having valuable arts learning experiences in their own classrooms.

According to Gwyn Tatum, director of education and programs at Amazement Square, opportunities for cultural engagement are very limited for students with disabilities in Central Virginia. The children’s museum jumped at the opportunity to expand their outreach to this community.

“We specifically reached out to schools that are far in the countryside, with students who are not going on field trips, so we can bring them lessons,” says Tatum, adding that their instructors are driving an hour or more to the school sites for the visual art residencies.

A girl with brown hair and a striped shirt holds an art project made of cardboard and plastic cups.

A student holds her creation from the “How Can I Help?” lesson.

Caitlin Seaman, one of the lead instructors for the Visual Art Outreach Program, says the teaching artists have been using two lessons from VSA’s 2016-2017 Teacher Resource Guide in their sessions with the students. Seaman says the “How Can I Help?” lesson, which focuses on the idea of service to one’s community, inspired the students to think outside the box.

“I was amazed with what [the students] came up with,” says Seaman, continuing, “…they had tons of ideas about problems in the world and many wonderful inventions for how to address the problems.” Seaman found the lesson worked best over the course of two one-hour sessions, so that they had enough time to make modifications as needed and ensure a meaningful experience for every child.

The “How Can I Help?” lesson is available on the VSA blog and on pages 9-15 of VSA’s Teacher Resource Guide. More information about Amazement Square is available on their website.

“How Can I Help?” – A visual art lesson plan from the VSA’s Teacher Resource Guide

A robot made of clay with a red top, square body, and striped legs.

A clay sculpture inspired by the “How Can I Help?” lesson.

In this lesson, students investigate possible solutions for concerns and/or needs in their community. They will design and create a machine to serve their community by addressing this need. The machine sculptures will be made out of clay or from found objects.

NOTE: This is an abridged version of the “How Can I Help?” lesson plan. To view the complete version, including in-depth adaptations and modifications for students with disabilities, example artworks, and a vocabulary list, see pages 9-15 of VSA’s Teacher Resource Guide.

GRADE LEVEL: K – 12
EXPECTED LENGTH: 2 – 3 class periods

MATERIALS
For clay sculpture:
Clay tools – simple tools such as plastic knives and forks
Clay mats
Acrylic paint
Newspaper

For found object sculpture:
Recycled materials (cardboard tubing, plastic bottles, cardboard)
Embellishments
Glue/Glue gun
Scissors

LEARNING OBJECTIVES
Art Making: Students will create a machine that can solve one of the world’s problems using found objects or clay and exemplifying the artistic principle of unity.

Critical Inquiry: Students will investigate how the title character of Wall-E was designed and created to solve a problem in the fictional society created in the movie.

Art History Inquiry: Students will reflect on the art- making of Michael Rakowitz and Tim Rollins + K.O.S. and how the artists talked and listened to the individuals they worked with (in other words – did research) in order to create their art.

Aesthetic Inquiry: Students will uncover how art can be an agent for social change through their examination of the stories behind the creations of Tim Rollins + K.O.S. and Michael Rakowitz.

PREPARE/DISCUSS
Show a clip of Wall-E that establishes the reason for Wall-E’s existence. Point out the vast and lonely landscape. Ask: Where are the people? Why would Wall-E be alone? Who created Wall-E and why?

Begin to generate ideas of problems we need to solve. What are some of the challenges that you or others must face each day? How could these challenges be made easier? Consider investigating topics being covered in other academic areas (e.g. if science class is addressing climate change). Make a brainstorming list on the board. Be prepared to pepper the list with suggestions to expand ideas. Record (or have a student record) this list for future reference.

Share the work of Michael Rakowitz and Tim Rollins + K.O.S. Highlight the research aspect of their work. Both artists asked questions and honored the voices of community members in their artistic process. In advocacy communities, this approach is embodied by the slogan: “Nothing about us without us,” which implies that people doing services that affect others (for example, policymakers) should do that service with the people it affects, not for them. Have students share times when things have been done “for them” but “without them.” Has someone ever helped you with your chair when you didn’t need it? Or answered a question for you without asking your opinion?

Revisit the brainstormed list created at the beginning. Who do we need to talk to and what do we need to ask in order to find out what is really needed?

A sculpture made of plastic cups, pom poms, and styrofoam balls.

A found object sculpture inspired by the “How Can I Help?” lesson.

METHODS/CREATE
Students should begin by identifying the problem they wish to address and thinking about a machine that could solve it. They should focus on how the machine would work, and what this will tell them about its design. For example, if the machine is designed to plant wild flowers on highway medians to support the Monarch butterflies during their migration, it might need something to rough up the soil to prepare for the seeds, something to sprinkle the seeds onto the dirt and something to water the seeds to help them start to germinate.

Choose the studio—clay construction or found object. Base your decision on either your access to the materials (clay construction will require access to a kiln), or the issue being addressed. For example, if investigating the concern for the excess trash that has created the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the use of recycled materials for the artwork would be most relevant.

Clay Construction

  1. Construct slabs of clay. Using a rolling pin, roll out clay with even pressure until it is 3/8” thick. Consider making the slabs in advance so the clay begins to dry out, which will make it easier to construct the machine.
  2. Create a base. Cut out shapes from a slab in the shape students want their machines to be: a square, rectangle or circle. If a square or rectangle is selected, then sides can be cut out using the base as a guide for the width of the pieces (2 for each dimension). If a circle is the base, a slab can simply be cut into a rectangle the length of the circumference of the circle.
  3. Prepare clay slabs to be connected. Have the students score the slabs by scratching the surfaces of both edges using a plastic fork or knife.
  4. Spread slip over the scored edges.
  5. Press the pieces together and smooth out the seams for a firm bond. Sides can be supported while drying with wads of newspaper.
  6. Once the frame of the machine is built, additional elements can be added using the slip and score process.
  7. Allow the work to dry, then fire in a kiln.
  8. The fired piece can be painted with acrylic paint to add details.

Found Object Construction

  1. Select materials from found objects, such as cardboard, toilet paper or paper towel tubes, or water bottles.
  2. Cut, tear or bend the selected material to match the students’ plans.
  3. Using glue or a glue gun, assemble the objects.
  4. Add embellishments, using glue for details (eyes, feathers, pompoms, etc.)

REFLECT
Have students write artist’s statements about their work. What does the machine do? How does it work? How does it address the identified need?

December 2016 VSA Webinar: “Arts As Inclusion: Holding Ourselves Accountable in Reaching Students with Disabilities”

As schools work to educate students with disabilities in the least restrictive environments, oftentimes the first place a student learns alongside his peers is the arts classroom. Indeed it is the assumptions on which arts learning is based—every student has something to express, there is no “wrong answer,” everyone can participate—that make the arts classroom an inviting place for all students. How, though, do we move beyond the intuitive belief that the arts work for all learners and hold ourselves accountable to the promise of inclusion: to provide opportunities for students with disabilities to access instruction and meaningfully engage in learning with their peers?

This session challenges the notion that arts instruction is inherently differentiated, thereby pushing practitioners to demonstrate (in concrete, assessable ways) differentiated instruction for students with disabilities in the arts classroom. It provides arts educators with frameworks for designing accessible arts lessons, tools to evaluate student learning, and language to effectively discuss the performance of students with disabilities in inclusive settings with other members of a student’s IEP team—transforming art educators into powerful advocates for the inclusion of students with disabilities throughout the school day.

Click on the play button below to watch a free recording of the Webinar. (You will be prompted to enter your email address and contact information prior to viewing the Webinar.)

november-webinar-blog-video

Presenter:

Jenna Gabriel is theIMG_1603_credit_Sarah_Hitchcock_Burzio Manager of Special Education at The Kennedy Center, where she supports all education initiatives affecting students with disabilities or their teachers, including the annual VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference.  Ms. Gabriel was previously based in Boston at IBA-Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, where she designed and supervised out-of-school-time programs for ELLs and struggling readers. Ms. Gabriel is the Founding Executive Director of Daytime Moon Creations, a NYC-based nonprofit providing arts programs to children with disabilities, and has led arts-based special education programming throughout NYC. Her most recent publication, “Use of Theatrical Techniques and Elements as Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders” was released in 2016 by Bloomsbury Press. Ms. Gabriel holds a BFA with honors in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and studied Intellectual Disabilities and Autism at Teachers College, Columbia University before completing her Masters in Education at Harvard University.


Links and Resources:

We want to know-what did you learn from this webinar?

Children with ASD Learn through Shakespeare at OSU

Photo of teaching artists working with a boy.

OSU teaching artists work with students with ASD. Photo credit: Big Ten Network

Shakespearean language may sound unfamiliar or intimidating to some children, but at The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus, Ohio, educators are successfully using Shakespeare as the cornerstone of theater workshops for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). OSU’s Shakespeare and Autism program not only offers an exciting arts learning opportunity for young participants with ASD, but also provides hands-on training for university theater students as teaching artists for students with disabilities.

The Shakespeare and Autism program grew out of OSU’s partnership with the UK’s Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). While RSC actor Kelly Hunter was at the university in 2009 to lead Shakespeare workshops for graduate students, she proposed incorporating her program for young people with ASD, called the Hunter Heartbeat Method, into the partnership. The success of an 11-week pilot program led to a collaboration between the OSU Department of Theater and the Nisonger Center, a university center for excellence in developmental disabilities. The Nisonger Center embarked upon a 42-week longitudinal study on the impact of the Hunter Heartbeat workshops on children with ASD.

The results of the Nisonger Center’s study were published in 2016 in the journal Research and Practice in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. They showed that participation in the Shakespeare and Autism program led to significant improvements in social involvement, language skills, and identification of facial expressions for children with ASD.

A female teaching artist puts her arms around two boys in a theater workshop.

Students play theater games led by OSU teaching artists. Photo credit: Big Ten Network

Kevin McClatchy, assistant professor of theater and director of the Shakespeare and Autism program, says the Hunter Heartbeat Method is rooted in the rhythm of Shakespeare’s language and exploring the mind’s eye. “Shakespeare was so great at putting words to feelings, and our workshops help kids express what being alive feels like to them. It gets exciting,” says McClatchy.

McClatchy teaches a Shakespeare and Autism class in the theater department every spring semester. During the 15-week service learning course, undergraduate and graduate students spend the first five weeks studying the Hunter Heartbeat Method and learning about ASD from scholarly reading, research, and guest speakers. After the first five weeks, they begin to lead Shakespeare and Autism workshops with two groups of 12 children with ASD from the Columbus area.

The workshops always begin with a heartbeat circle, in which everyone pats the rhythm of a heartbeat on their chests and says hello. McClatchy describes the circle as a great transitional tool and acknowledgment of a shared moment. After the heartbeat circle, the teaching artists lead the children in games based on Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, which provides a central storyline throughout the workshops.

Photo of a male teaching artist holding hands with a girl in a red shirt.

A teaching artist works with a girl at a Shakespeare and Autism workshop. Photo credit: Big Ten Network

The teaching artists might begin with a game like “Changing the Face,” when they would introduce the half-fish, half-monster character of Caliban. They make an angry face, attach an angry heartbeat, and go around the circle doing an angry hello. That moves into throwing the face across the circle to someone else who will catch it, and ultimately involves attaching Caliban’s text to the throw as well. Teaching artists model the games, and for certain activities, break the children into small groups for practice before returning to the large group.

McClatchy says the play-based games aim to develop skills like recognition and replication of facial expressions, taking turns, sustaining eye contact, and understanding cause and effect, all using Shakespeare’s text as a starting point. He also describes the practical learning opportunity for the university students as “incredible,” adding that real learning for any teaching artist happens when you actually do the work, adding, “You must be present in the moment and respond to every particular need. A strategy that works one week may backfire the next session. The OSU students are amazing in their ability to respond.”

For more information about the Shakespeare and Autism program, visit OSU’s website.

Watercolor Fountain Painting: A Visual Art Lesson Plan for Students with Disabilities

Created by Darren Thompson

Creative Arts Specialist Darren Thompson teaches art in a fully inclusive setting, which includes many students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). His goal is to provide a rich environment that supports creative exploration for all students. Many of the art experiences he designs that are especially effective for children with ASD involve motorized devices that he creates or adapts from common objects. Here, Thompson offers a visual art lesson plan utilizing a battery-operated tabletop fountain.

Grade
Preschool, ages 3 – 6 years

Materials

  • Battery-operated tabletop fountain
  • Semi-moist watercolor set (such as Crayola or Prang)
  • Heavy white paper

Goals

  • Become acquainted with watercolor as a medium for self-expression.
  • Demonstrate that the marks a person makes can represent a thought or a feeling.
  • Provide an opportunity for social interaction.

Procedure

  • Fill fountains with water and turn them on.
  • Demonstrate the sequence of first dipping the brush in the water, then in the paint, and then touching it to the paper.
  • Tell the children they can paint whatever they choose.
  • Express interest in and remark upon what you see in a child’s piece and ask him or her to share thoughts or feelings. For example: “I see you’re using red and you’ve made some straight lines and some circles. Tell me about it!”
  • Ask if you can share their painting and words with their friends.
  • If the answer is no, respect the child’s choice. If the answer is yes, then make an impromptu announcement to the group. For example: “Hey everyone, Fatima has painted a picture of her mom and her ” Show the painting to the class. As you hand it back, speak loud enough for the class to hear you say, “Thank you, Fatima!”
  • Make your way around the room, interacting with each child in this manner.

Notes
A tabletop water fountain immediately engages children. They are eager to explore it and are delighted that they are allowed to do so. The sound and feel of water has a regulating effect for everyone, but is especially effective for individuals with sensory processing delays, including those sometimes associated with ASD. Children should be allowed to paint with their fingers if they choose.

I recommend using relatively small-sized paper, as it requires finer movements of the hands, which helps to calm and focus the children. I use 5” x 8” blank index cards.

Children always welcome positive acknowledgment from a caring adult. When they are asked to tell you about their work it sends the message that what they are doing, thinking, and feeling is important. It also gives them practice in reflecting on their actions and recognizing that actions have causes. When you share their work with the class, you are helping each child feel connected to their peer group. You are also demonstrating that every child has something to offer.

 

This lesson plan aligns with the following Early Learning Content Standards in the state of Ohio:

  • Use imagination and creativity to interact with objects and materials.
  • Express individuality, life experiences, and what he/she knows and is able to do through a variety of media,
  • Express interest in and show appreciation for the creative work of others.
  • Demonstrate understanding that symbols carry meaning and use symbols to represent thinking.
  • With modeling and support, explore the properties of objects and materials (e.g., solids and liquids).
  • Use language to communicate in a variety of ways with others, to share observations, ideas and experiences; problem-solve, reason, predict, and seek new information.

 

A headshot photo of Darren Thompson, man with light hair and a beard, wearing glasses.Darren Thompson is a Creative Arts Specialist employed by Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities in Columbus, Ohio. He teaches art at The Early Childhood Education and Family Center in a fully inclusive setting. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art, a Master’s Degree in Education, and is a licensed Early Childhood Educator and Intervention Specialist. He is a frequent guest speaker at The Ohio State University College of Social Work and College of Arts and Sciences. Thompson presented at the 2016 VSA Ohio Arts and Autism Conference and is on the planning committee for the 2017 convening.