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Art therapy may qualify, under PL 92-142 (now IDEA), as a related service in the education of handicapped children and thus be mandated by law. The vehicle for this, the Individualized Education Program, has been underutilized by art therapists. Art therapy may be beneficial in addressing children’s needs in all six areas of performance enumerated on the IEP:

  • Academic/Cognitive
  • Communicative Status
  • Motor and Perceptual Skills
  • Prevocational/Vocational Skills
  • Self-Help Skills, as well as the area most familiar to art therapists
  • Social/Emotional Status

Although procedures for completing IEP forms-and even the forms themselves -vary from school district to school district, common to all is the need to formulate prioritized annual goals and to design short-term objectives that include the following five components:

  1. Audience
  2. Behavior
  3. Condition
  4. Degree
  5. Evaluation

The sample IEP form that follows uses a hypothetical case (concerning a child named Mark) to illustrate not only the kind of needs a child may present but also the variety of ways in which those needs may be addressed through art therapy.

Note: A modified version of this article was first published in A.E. Di Maria, E. Kramer, and I. Rosner (Eds.) (1982). Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual Conference of the American Art Therapy Association (Falls Church, VA: American Art Therapy Association). Reprinted by permission. This article was written by Audrey Di Maria in her private capacity. No official support or endorsement by the District of Columbia government or the District of Columbia Public School System is intended or should be inferred.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Agency: _____________ Date of Report:______________

1. Identifying Information

Name of Student:___________ Birth Date: _______ Age:____
School: ________________ Teacher: _____________
Name of Parent/Guardian: ___________ Phone Number: _______

2. Special Notations

a. Health Status, Visual and Hearing Acuity: __________

b. Observed Learning Style: Mark learns most effectively through a combination of visual and kinesthetic methods (e.g., a multisensory approach)…
c. Other _______________________________

3. Period, Plan

From June, 1991 To June, 1992

Interim/Annual Review and
Recommendations and Revisions
Interim Review: December 1991
Annual Review: June 1992

4. Present Level(s) of Educational Performance

Academic/Cognitive Levels: (include reading, math, and general abilities)

  • Reading/reading readiness skills: Mark has difficulty in identifying and naming colors, shapes, and objects. (Counteract environmental deprivation by providing sensory stimulation and opportunities to explore wide variety of media)
  • Math skills: Mark has trouble in sorting, classifying, categorizing, selecting, combining, matching, and sequencing. (Encourage selecting, grouping, and using art materials)
  • General skills: Mark has difficulty in deriving relationships of time, space, and number, and in determining cause-and-effect relationships. (Promote abstract reasoning and ability to conceptualize through use of picture/storytelling, cartoon strips, TV story pads, and paper collages. Demonstrate cause and effect in social relationships through discussing what makes children angry, happy, or frightened and what responses these situations arouse)

Communicative Status: (include speech, language and writing skills)

  • Expressive language: Mark is almost nonverbal (or he is excessively verbal or overly intellectual). (Encourage observation, exploration, and inventive behavior; stimulate imagination and foster school communication skills through storytelling about pictures while respecting the displacement they afford)
  • Receptive language: Mark appears to be inattentive, with a short attention span. He needs help in following directions. His receptive language is extremely limited by his underdeveloped vocabulary (or by a foreign language barrier). (Encourage dialogues)
  • Written language: Mark enjoys writing, but his work is not always legible. (Create an illustrated autobiography)

Motor and Perceptual Skills: (include fine and gross motor, visual and auditory perception)

  • Fine motor skills: Mark has difficulty in grasping and in manipulating objects. (Offer opportunities for modeling clay, cutting and pasting, coloring, sorting and stringing beads, stenciling, using tools)
  • Gross motor skills: Mark stumbles a lot and shows a lack of coordination; he may be accident prone. (Employ movement exercises as warm-up to drawing; use of mural paper, large brushes, introduce body image work)
  • Auditory perception: Mark is easily distracted by extraneous classroom noises. He has difficulty in discriminating among auditory stimuli. (Provide individual work within nonstimulating environment; use simple, concrete language; make expectations clear)
  • Sensory motor integration: Mark has trouble with hand/eye coordination, directionality, and laterality. (Provide opportunities for handling manipulative objects, and engaging in drawing exercises)
  • Visual perception: Mark has trouble with sequencing, closure, discriminating differences, distinguishing figure/ground relationships, and spatial relationships. (Utilize cut paper collages, modeling clay, printing materials)

Social/Emotional Status: (include interaction in school, home and neighborhood with adults and peers)

Mark has a short attention span and is easily distracted from a task. (Provide art activities of short duration, structured tasks, opportunity for immediate feedback)

Mark exhibits a low level of frustration tolerance. He is often unable to control his impulses and is frequently aggressive toward peers and adults. (Afford opportunities for sublimation of aggressive impulses and for verbalization of feelings through artwork, puppetry, role play, dramatic play, and direct discussion)

Mark portrays himself as having a poor self-concept. (Arrange opportunities to experience success and develop confidence through pride in personal achievement. Affirm ego through emphasis on individuality and uniqueness, e.g., making self- portraits)

Mark seems to have a poor body image. (Body tracing to address this concern, or to address need for integration of body parts and boundaries)

Mark seems to be extremely fearful. (Furnish nonthreatening environment and safe avenues for self-expression and the elaboration of concerns)

Mark makes excessive use of fantasy. (Engage in reality testing exercises and still-life drawings. Provide clear, dependable structure)

Mark is withdrawn and isolates himself from others. (Supply indirect form of communication with environment, providing for both involvement and detachment)

Attach additional sheets as needed

Prevocational/Vocational Skills: (include in the relevant area abilities in that area)

Mark has trouble in following directions, in adjusting to a work situation, and in completing tasks. He has an awareness of time, but he does not seem to be able to budget time or material effectively. He demonstrates an ability to invest himself in his task, but has difficulty in leaving his project when his time is finished and in returning to it to reinvest himself in the task. (Provide opportunities to test concepts, strengths, and skills. Document development with regard to behavior, activities, completed works. Foster independent function through opportunities to set one’s own goals, to challenge oneself, and to master tools, processes. Promote problem-solving ability through the discovery and discussion of alternatives)

Self-Help Skills: (include the degree of independence in daily living skills, study habits, etc.)

Mark has trouble in sustaining himself at work without a great deal of verbal reinforcement. In the classroom, he seems to feel that he can learn only through imitation, although he demonstrates leadership skills with peers in the neighborhood. (Fosters ability to originate, communicate, and appreciate ideas)

Other: (include any pertinent information not stated above)

5. Prioritized Annual Goals:

Area Goal

Social/ Emotional Status

Motor and Perceptual Skills

1. Mark will be able to structure himself and to make responsible choices.

2. Mark will exhibit decreased destructive behavior and increased
productive behavior.

3. Mark will respect the property of others and will demonstrate an
improved ability to interact with peers, adults, and family members.

4. Mark will exhibit significant growth in the areas of visual discrimination
and visual memory.

6. Short-Term Objectives (include evaluative procedures and criteria) 7. Special Education Services and Resources 8. Projected Dates for Initiation of Services and Anticipated Duration of Services
(Letters A, B, C, D, and E below refer to the five components of short-term objectives described earlier)    
1.1 Given art therapy (C),
Mark (A) will develop an
ability to make appropriate
decisions in choosing and in using art materials (e.g., through learning painting skills and clay-modeling techniques) (B) 80% of the time (D), as measured by art therapist’s observations (E).
Art therapy (individual sessions 2x week) June 1991 to June 1992
1.2 Given responsibility for choosing an activity, Mark will focus his attention on the activity and will carry it through to completion 75% of the time, as measured by art therapist’s observations. Art therapy (individual sessions, 2x week) June 1991 to June 1992
2.1 Given task orientation and increased ability to focus, Mark will make wise use of materials, will improve his level of performance, and will exhibit increased pride in his art products 80% of the time, as measured by art therapist’s observations. Art therapy (individual sessions, 2x week) June 1991 to June 1992
3.1 Given the opportunity to see artwork made by other children, Mark will be able to look at it and talk about it, without touching it, 90% of the time, as measured by art therapist’s observations. Art therapy (group sessions, 1x week) June 1991 to June 1992
3.2 Through use of art materials, puppet play, and role play, Mark will learn to verbally identify facial expressions, recognize and identify his feelings as they occur, and use more appropriate behavior in relating to his peers and to adults (e.g., discussing angry feelings with the person involved as soon as possible using nonaggressive words rather than physical action or aggressive words) 80% of the time, as measured by art therapist’s observations. Art therapy (group sessions, 1x week) June 1991 to June 1992

4. Given art therapy, Mark will be able to do the following with mastery:

  • (a) group objects according to size, shape, and color
  • (b) focus upon a given object or task for an increased period of time
  • (c) describe previous visual experiences within the environment to give evidence of delayed recall 85% of the time, as measured by art therapist’s observations.
Art therapy (individual sessions, 2x. week) June 1991 to June 1992


  1. Description of proposed instructional services:
  2. Comments and suggestions to facilitate instructional programming: One-to-one relationships facilitate Mark’s learning process. Mark participates in group activities only with specialized individual assistance. Art Therapy recommended, individual and group sessions.


  • Hours/days per week in regular education
  • Hours/days per week in physical education

11. Schedule for determining whether short term objectives are being achieved:

  1. Annual Review Date(s) June 1992
  2. Interim Review Date(s) December 1991

12. IEP Meeting(s)


Name (print or type) Signature
___________________ ___________________ Parent
___________________ ___________________ Special Education
___________________ ___________________ Teacher
___________________ ___________________ Educational Technician
___________________ ___________________ Art Therapist
___________________ ___________________ Social Worker
___________________ ___________________ Psychologist
___________________ ___________________ Psychiatrist
Second Edition by Frances E. Anderson, Ed.D., A.T.R., H.L.M. Charles C Thomas Publisher, 1992 pp.213-218
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