girl with paint on hands
The title “special needs” encompasses such a wide range of diagnoses, but regardless of his unique situation, each child with special needs can thrive and develop a talent for the arts with the appropriate exposure and training. The world of the arts offers countless opportunities for children to learn and grow, without labels or limits.
Succeeding in the arts is about self-exploration and daring to be different. “It is about movement, creativity, exploring your body, and self-awareness,” says Martina Planavska of the Naples Academy of Ballet. “We usually see what the child is capable of doing at the beginning with ballet, jazz, hiphop or zumba dancing and then give them an opportunity to try different things.”
The great thing about the arts is that there is something for everyone. “Some kids are verbal and want to be in drama; some gravitate to music; others are introspective and gravitate to the fine arts or multimedia options,” says Lulu Carter, owner and director at Outside the Box Studio in Naples.
Even non-verbal children can express themselves through the arts. “It is another way of communicating, being more spontaneous, taking risks, being more courageous, and learning that there is no right or wrong,” says Carter.
Feeling of accomplishment
While the arts provide children with many ways to express themselves, these activities also give kids a sense of pride. “The arts help to build reinforcement and improve a child’s overall self-worth,” says Christy Jacobs, director of marketing at Brainchild Corporation.
At the same time, the arts allow children with special needs to operate on a level playing field with other kids.
“Any time a child with special needs is able to experience the world that they see all the other children engaged in, it is crucial,” says psychologist Dr. Keith Foster. Children “may recognize that while there may be some unique limitation by their particular disability, there are other ways they can flourish, enjoy themselves and feel good about who they are,” he explains.
The arts allow children to participate without labels, and that leads to extra benefits, such as increased confidence. “Children with autism, from a social standpoint, find new friends and their social skills get better,” says Planavska. Carter agrees, pointing to an instance at her studio where autistic children and non-autistic children worked together on a movie production, and none of the kids involved knew anyone had special needs.
At first glance, horseback riding may seem like an odd choice to clump in with more traditional art forms. However, horseback riding takes the sensory experience of the arts and combines it with a physical activity.
Riders can be physically disabled or have cognitive issues. “Riding has physical benefits in terms of developing core strength and the ability to sit up and it involves all the muscles of the body,” says Peg O’Kane, operations manager at Naples Equestrian Challenge.
From a cognitive perspective, riders are asked to follow multi-step directions. “They select an item based on color, pick it up and bring it to another area in the ring and go through problem solving,” says O’Kane. Holding on to the reins and directing a horse can be a challenge at first. “They learn left from right because we have special reins that are black on the left side and white on the right,” she says.
This art form is about defying the odds. “Horseback riding is a place where they are not different and being in a social environment allows an exchange of information for the families as well,” says O’Kane.
Tips for Success:
Exploring the arts can be an exciting new adventure for you and your children. Below are a few tips on ensuring that this exploration meets your needs and goals.
• Always look for new opportunities to incorporate the arts. For example, the next time you are planning a birthday, consider how the arts could play a role.
• Be sure that your child has the freedom to decide which art is best for her.
• Not all children thrive in a group setting. When exploring with the senses, some children prefer to work independently.
• Some children may resist at first. New activities can be scary. Sometimes all it takes is a little pep talk or holding a child’s hand to make him feel more comfortable in his surroundings.
• Do not forget to capture these special moments on film.