The Value of Art in Adolescent Special Education

Art forms such as painting or music are powerful developmental tools, improving brain function and memory skills. Creative expression and appreciation are invaluable parts of any educational program but is especially beneficial as part of adolescent special education.Art As EducationA number of studies have demonstrated that schools with strong art programs have higher academic performance records than schools with less or no emphasis on art classes. There are several theories as to why this is true.Learning was once considered a logical, left-brain activity. However recent thought is that learning also involves the creative right half of our brains. As students participate in artistic endeavors, they strengthen the neural connections in the right brain. They are more open to new ideas, learn faster, and retain memories better. Art also helps thinking and problem solving, helping students to understand and relate to new subjects more easily. Finally, art engages students more than many traditional teaching methods.These facts do not just apply to adolescent special education. Typical students in general education environments benefit from art as well.Art As CommunicationMany students in adolescent special education, particularly those with neurological disorders, have difficulty communicating through traditional means. Some of these kids don’t relate to the world in the same way as traditional students and are unable to grasp the concept of spoken language despite having normal hearing. Some of these students are able to communicate through music. They easily understand song lyrics even as they struggle to understand normal speech.Other students can use art as a non-traditional communication medium. They can better express themselves through visual imagery than they can through the limits of traditional language. After all, art is at its core a form of communication and exposing these students to media outside written and spoken language may reveal new possibilities for interaction with their peers.Art As TherapyIt is common for parents and even other therapists to assume that the activities described above are art therapy. However simply listening to music or painting a picture is no more art therapy than walking down the street is physical therapy. Art therapy is a directed exercise that uses the art as both a motivator and a therapeutic tool.Traditionally art therapy has been used in the psychiatric field to allow patients get in touch with inner feelings they may be unable to express through other means. Today it is growing in popularity as a development tool, helping students in childhood or adolescent special education programs grow in ways that they might not be able to through other therapeutic means.Children who have been considered “unreachable” may suddenly blossom when exposed to painting, music, poetry or other forms of creativity. Art should always be included in an adolescent special education setting.