The Arts: Windows to Strength for Individuals with Learning Disabilities

By: LD OnLine

Many alternative therapies using artistic expression allow individuals with disabilities to explore feelings, frustrations, and emotions often hidden. Alternative artistic therapies also provide social interactions, visual, auditory and sensory motor experiences, and cognitive growth. These therapies include music therapy, art therapy, drama therapy, and bibliotherapy.

Music therapy is the specialized use of music to improve and maintain functioning in the social, cognitive, sensory and communicative areas. Stige summarizes values of music therapy:

  • Music is a social thing
  • Music is closely related to everyday experiences
  • Spontaneous elements are given high value
  • Personal expression is more important than technical proficiency

Rutter says schools fostering high self-esteem also include art and music. Music therapy helps individuals with learning disabilities and ADHD relieve anxiety, focus attention and develop strengths.

Music therapists are certified to work in private practice and in the schools.

Art Therapy, writes Robert Miller, for the Dallas Morning News, helps “patients paint bright new vistas.” In art therapy no one grades you. Children can paint from within and express feelings often associated with learning disabilities and ADHD. Art develops visual-motor skills and has been found to be beneficial to children with learning disabilities, behavioral and emotional problems.

Drama therapy is an active, experiential approach that allows children to explore feelings and interpersonal relationships. Behavior change, skill-building, sensory-motor and personal growth can result. The National Association of Drama Therapists maintains requirements that must be met by drama therapists. For the professional interested in further training in any of these areas several universities offer advanced training. Links to the national organizations list programs in each area of specialization.

The following are important suggestions parents may want to consider:

  • The arts are important to childhood development
  • Many universities offer programs in music, art, and drama therapy that provided needed training for certification.
  • Exploration of the arts gives children with disabilities opportunities to express strengths
  • The arts provide social interactions
  • The arts provide sensory-motor skill development
  • Specialized therapies in the arts are alternatives being used.
  • Parents can accomplish some of the goals at home by encouraging their children to draw, play a music instrument, or develop family dramas safe from negative comment.
  • Teachers can help reduce stress for children with learning disabilities by including avenues for artistic expression.
  • Parents can share time reading books with children that explore feelings often associated with having a learning disability.

More information about arts in education



Click the "References" link above to hide these references.

Miller, Robert (April 4, 1998) Art therapists help patients paint bright new vistas, Dallas Morning News.

Stige, Brynjulf (1998) Aesthetic practices in music therapy, Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 7(2), pp 121-134.

LD OnLine (1989)