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art therapy for special needs kidsMany times children with special needs or learning differences are overlooked when it comes to creative opportunities. While they may struggle in other traditional areas, exploring art can offer a place to discover new talents and abilities.

Adapting an art project for a child with special needs can be challenging. Sometimes project ideas are too simplified, not age appropriate, or still too complicated to ensure any level of success for increasing art skills.

Follow these ideas to adapt art projects and increase art skills for a special needs child.


  • Choose an art project that may be a little bit of a challenge for your artist. This may include something with multiple steps or a new art material.
  • Write out the steps of the art project. Number them and put them where the artist can read through them as they are completing the project. Read through the steps with your artist.


  • Start with Step 1 and ask your artist to do the step. (Demonstrate for them how to do it to get them started if they need it.) Read the next step with the artist and have the artist complete the step. Continue this with all of the steps of the project.
  • Determine how many steps you think your artist can be successful with and do in one sitting. You know your artist and their abilities. The artist does not need to finish all of the steps.
  • It may be good to start with only the first three or four steps of a project and end with success.


  •  Have the artist do the same art project again at another time.  Remind the artist that they did great before and had success. Encourage the artist to try again if they struggled.
  • Review and follow the same steps of the project again that the artist is familiar with.  These are “known” and “safe”.

Introduce New Concept

  • Add a new step. See how the artist does. If they are able to complete this step, have them continue on to the next new step. The “unknown” may be uncomfortable. If the artist becomes uncomfortable, reassure them to give the new step a try. Remind them that they were able to do the other steps and this is just something new to try. ( This may be a new material or skill.)
  • Some artists will be able to continue on to the next steps, while other artists may need to stop and have this be a completed project.
  • Let the artist end with success.
  • Have the artist repeat the project again at another time. Keep following the “familiar” steps and continue to introduce more steps. Continue to remind the artist with each new step and concept that this is an experiment and it does not need to be perfect. Continuing to repeat the art projects allows the artist to practice skills and have familiar “safe” steps to follow.

Benefits to Participating in Art
Following this process to adapt art projects–structure, simplify, repeat, introduce new concept– will help increase:

  • Attention Span: The artist learns to stay engaged and continues to expand their ability to stay engaged. Each step of the project can be an added five or ten minutes of time spent engaged in an activity. It also helps adding “new “ things and keeps them from becoming bored while learning art skills.
  • Confidence: The artist begins to have confidence in what they know. They are “familiar” with what they need to do. Repeating steps for the art project develops and builds skills. They start with “safe” known steps and moving to something new is then not as uncomfortable.
  • Problem Solving Skills: The artist can problem solve and anticipate the next step, because they have done it before.  They start to trust their instincts and abilities to figure things out.
  • Self Expression: Once the artist learns fundamental skills, they can move on to exploring, experimenting, following their ideas, and ultimately creating art that reflects their original ideas and thoughts.