Planning For Independence

 Visual Arts


In the visual arts program, students explore, observe, and manipulate a variety of materials and perceive similarities and differences in such attributes as texture, pattern, colour, line, and shape. They also express their feelings and thoughts creatively through such activities as modelling, painting, constructing, and drawing. Frequently, visual arts provide modes of self-expression to those whose verbal skills are relatively undeveloped.

Arts and crafts activities can be pleasurable and creative for all students. As students progress through school, their skills are refined, and they develop confidence and a positive self-image. They also develop both affectively and cognitively as they share their views about art with their peers and critique & work of other artists.

Some students have a talent for visual arts that matches or exceeds that of their peers. These students approach artistic concepts, such as balance, design, and colour, with directness and clarity.

Students should be provided with opportunities to participate in a wide variety of arts and crafts activities and to manipulate varied media. Such activities are interesting and pleasurable ways of developing sensory awareness, spatial understanding, body awareness, observational skills, perceptual-motor control, and finemotor skills.

Visual arts also provide an excellent context for social learning. Group or class art projects such as murals, models, and displays can provide natural opportunities for social integration.

The Planning Cycle

Assessment and Development

In the first two phases of the planning cvcle, educators need to:

  • identify areas that are of interest to students (e.g., preferred subjects to paint, preferred media) and that are appropriate to their ages;
  • assess students' phvsical, cognitive, and artistic strengths;
  • determine whether adult or peer support will be necessary;
  • identify school or community settings in which art activities will take place;
  • identify any safetv concerns, and plan strategies to prevent injury,
  • plan projects whose products students can use (e.g., fabric painting on T-shirts, leather applique, bead jewellery, ceramics);
  • plan arts or crafts activities that students will be able to do as adults for leisure or work.

Implementation and Evaluation

In the last two phases of the planning cycle, educators need to:

  • modify the equipment used in art classes as required (e.g., provide larger paintbrushes and stabilized paint containers for students who are physically disabled);
  • use household objects (e.g., feather dusters, paint rollers, deodorant rollers, string) as art tools;
  • have students do relaxation exercises with their hands and arms before beginning art activities (students who are spastic or who are unable to relax voluntarily may need to be massaged);
  • play music during both the relaxation period and the art activities;
  • use subdued lighting or table lamps as an alternative to fluorescent lighting;
  • use bright or shiny art materials (e.g., foil, glitter) for students with severe sensory deficits;
  • experiment with computerized art programs, photography, and video projects.


Ontario. Ministry of Education. Visual Arts, Intermediate and Senior Divisions. Curriculum Guideline. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1986.

_____. Visual Arts, Primary aud Junior Divisions. Curriculum Ideas for Teachers. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1985.

Case Study - Elementary Level

Student Profile Seven-year-old Sharma has multiple disabilities. She is quadriplegic and has very little control of her limbs. She can direct her fist to a large surface (e.g., a paper attached to her wheelchair tray) but requires assistance for toileting, eating, and most personal-care needs. Sharma communicates by smiling, crying, and making brief eye contact. She likes to be held and enjoys sensory contact of any kind. She is attracted to bright colours, lights, and pleasant sounds. She can track a moving object with her eyes.

Learning Environment Sharma attends a special school. Her program emphasizes the development of motor skills, setf-care skills, and sensory awareness. She requires daily physiotherapy, which is carried out by her teacher or the educational assistant, with recommendations from the school's physiotherapist. She requires adapted equipment to enable her to manipulate materials more independently.

Expected Learning Outcomes Sharma is expected to:

  • manipulate a variety of materials (e.g., clay, paint, fabric) in art activities in order to acquire tactile information about her environment;
  • develop sensory awareness and communicative and fine-motor skills through the exploration of art media.

Student Program Sharma is being provided with opportunities to:

  • develop communication skills by eye pointing or smiling to indicate her choices (e.g., of art activities, paint colours);
  • develop concepts of colour, texture, and space through handover-hand activities combined with appropriate vocabulary;
  • refine such social skills as sharing the materials used in art class and co-operating in joint projects such as murals;
  • improve her targeting skills through activities with paint media (e.g., using her fist, a deodorant roller, brayers, modified paint rollers, industrial spray cans);
  • improve her grasp and release through sponge painting, hole punching, and manipulation of play dough and clay;
  • develop sensory awareness through multisensory experiences with a variety of art media (e.g., paper, sandpaper, carpeting, fabric, leather, plastic, wood, tin foil) varying in colour, texture, and shape;
  • develop body awareness by using various parts of the body (foot, thumb, elbow) to paint or by making large sculptures of people by using the fist or feet to stuff paper into old clothing;
  • improve midline targeting by block printing with flat hands.

Case Study - Secondary Level

Student Profile Sarah is an attractive seventeen-yearold. She has a good command of spoken language but is extremely shy and speaks in a low voice, with her head down. She adds and subtracts to 20 and is beginning to learn multiplication. She is able to read simply written instructions. She has excellent fine-motor skills and is very artistic. She is learning to travel to school on her own and is able to make simple purchases in the community.

Learning Environment Sarah attends a special secondary school class and is integrated in visual arts with a peer buddy. She also participates in community learning through visits to art galleries, fashion shows, and art stores.

Expected Learning Outcomes Sarah is expected to:

  • develop drawing and painting skills through an integrated arts program;
  • improve her self-confidence and social skills through participation in a fashion-design program;
  • become aware of art-related vocational opportunities.

Student Program Sarah is being provided with opportunities to:

  • improve spontaneous communication with her peers during art activities by looking at the person she is talking to and speaking more clearly;
  • increase her vocabulary related to colours, design, and art and develop the communication skills needed to purchase articles in art stores or to visit art galleries;
  • read simple instructions for art or craft activities, simple books about famous artists, and newspaper stories about fashion;
  • write letters to order art supplies and make shopping lists of needed materials;
  • design posters for fashion shows and other school events and experiment with the use of Letraset or Geosign to spell words in signs and posters (and thereby practise both layout and spelling);
  • refine her fine-motor skills by using a variety of art media and techniques (e.g., weaving, silk-screening, working leather, making copper jewellery, floral arranging);
  • improve her awareness of shape, size, and design by using computerized design programs and by using the photocopier for reduction and enlargement;
  • practise handling money by purchasing needed supplies in the community.

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