Art can include everyone

Alex Turbeville, Managing Editor

Educators Larry Barnfield and Alycia Williams explained how future teachers could integrate special education students into their classrooms on Feb. 6 in the Thomason Auditorium inside the Lee Nursing Building.

Williams explained the various disabilities that would qualify students for either an Individual Education Plan or 504 plan, documents that explain the accommodations that students may need.  These disabilities are wide-ranging, from physical disabilities such as diabetes to mental disabilities like ADHD.

Williams and Barnfield said each student has his or her own needs, but that there are some patterns that apply to most special education students. Often, it is best to establish routines, have students repeat directions and provide frequent feedback.

If a student is hesitant to talk or communicate with others, it is important to not overload them with information, according to Williams. She said the student will not understand if you use long sentences, so it is better to keep things simple.

“If you’re interacting with a student who doesn’t talk at all, do you know how many words you should use?” Williams asked. “Two.”

Barnfield, who was previously an art teacher, showed some of the ways that he changed his classroom to help kids with disabilities. The desks all had unique seats, with some being raised so kids could stand, and some having bouncing seats so children could fidget comfortably while sitting.

One thing Barnfield created to aid students was a way for visually impaired students to draw. He placed screen wire over a pan so that the wax of a crayon would stick on the wire. Students could then feel the wax so they knew what they were drawing.

Barnfield stressed the importance of using grips so students who have less refined motor skills can still draw or paint. He also said it is important to be careful with scissors when teaching kids who have undeveloped motor skills. He said he teaches students how to tear paper into certain shapes before giving them the scissors and letting them cut the shape on their own.

Barnfield also shared ways that art students outside of the visual arts field could learn. He said music students are given gloves with velcro so they can hold on to instruments. Kids performing theatre tell stories with finger puppets to improve their motor skills and communication. For dance, instructors can attach fabric to a whiffle ball that is easy to grasp. The kids can then move the balls to create routines, which also enhances them mentally.

The presenters emphasized that the children in their classrooms want to feel normal, and it is important to treat them normally. Barnfield shared a story in which he was teaching twins who had been born without eyes. The twins had glass eyes, but would often remove the eyes to get attention. Barnfield would scold the kids, and other teachers would be shocked that he would yell at the kids for their disability. However, he said it was important that he do that so they knew they were being treated the same as other kids.

Williams said the goal of teaching is not to treat all students the same, but rather to present them with opportunities.

“I will always promise to be fair,” Williams said. “Fair is everyone getting what they need to be successful. Equal is everyone being treated the same.”

Williams said it is not always easy to teach special education students, since some may be more confrontational than others. She said she has seen stories of former students that have been sent to jail or killed, but that the overall experience was worth it.

“A little turbulence does not stop an airplane,” Williams said. “The teacher is the pilot – fly through it.”