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Engaging in the arts for children with cerebral palsy is important for self-expression and can be a type of therapy. Art is proven to reduce anxiety and depression and improve cognitive abilities like memory and reasoning. Many facilities and schools are beginning to offer guided therapies that use art, music, and dance to help children of all abilities.
The Importance of Inclusion
A child living with disabilities has the right to be included in activities and learning experiences as much as any other child. However, for a long time, these children have been excluded from activities due to the assumption that they could not participate.
Inclusion is growing as a movement. It is important because all children deserve to have art education in their lives and to benefit from it. Inclusion is also necessary for many other reasons: to promote self-esteem and confidence, to increase socializing with peers, and to give every child the best opportunities.
Art Allows for Non-Verbal Expression
Making art is a way to express emotions, especially those that are difficult to talk about. For a child with a disability, the need to express negative emotions like fear, shame, and anger is intense.
Being given the tools to be creative and make something, these children can learn to express and communicate these feelings in healthy ways. For a child with cerebral palsy who struggles to communicate verbally, art is a potent tool for expressing and releasing emotions and communicating with others.
Art Boosts Self-Esteem
Living with a disability significantly impacts self-esteem and can limit what a child perceives as their abilities. A child may not think that creating art or participating in theater or dance is possible, but with inclusive programs and adaptive instruction and tools, they are.
Knowing that making art is not only possible, but something they may be good at is a big boost for a child with so many other limitations in life. Studies on children participating in music, drawing, painting, and reading indicated higher levels of well-being.
Seeing a completed work of art is powerful for confidence and for a child to see what they can do in all areas of life. It helps a child to focus on what is possible, what their abilities are, rather than focusing on limitations. Also beneficial to confidence is the ability to share creations with others who appreciate them.
Art Supports Academics
Children with cerebral palsy mostly have intelligence levels equal to or superior to their peers. Some, however, may have lower IQs, but even those with average or above-average intelligence, performing well academically can be challenging.
Studies with disabled students and their teachers have found that those who regularly participate in art classes are more academically successful. State test scores went up significantly after several years of implementing the art curriculum for all students.
Art Supports Language Development
Cerebral palsy can cause speech and language difficulties, but participation in arts programs has been proven to help support this development. Specifically, participating in theater and drama programs can be beneficial for developing speech and language.
It may be a challenge for a child who struggles to talk, but active participation actually helps improve speech. Theater programs specifically designed to work with disabled children and adults are available in many locations.
Art Promotes Social Activities
Art is varied and can be done individually or in a group setting. It may be a group where everyone works individually or a class that uses collaboration to create works of art. The possibilities are endless, but most give children the chance to be involved and spend time with their peers.
This is one reason that inclusion in all areas of school and extracurricular activities is so important. It gives children more time with their peers, which helps them see that they are not so different and gives them all the positive benefits of being social.
The Benefits of Dance
Dance may seem like an unachievable dream for a child with a physical disability. Children with cerebral palsy may have physical disabilities ranging from a slightly altered walk to wheelchair-bound. With modifications and adaptations, though, everyone can dance.
In fact, adapted dance can be beneficial by improving flexibility, strength, balance, and other physical measures. In terms of inclusion, socializing, and building self-esteem, dance can be very powerful.
Art and Dance as Therapy
Participation in the arts does not have to be formal or specifically therapeutic for children with disabilities to see its benefits. However, art, music, and dance can be powerful tools used in therapy guided by trained professionals.
Working with a therapist that specializes in using some type of art can provide a child with a safe place to express feelings, thoughts, and worries. It helps them work through problems that are difficult to talk about.
Trained art therapists use the creation of art to allow patients to open up more easily and express emotions that may be hidden. Creating art can bring out these feelings that a child did not know how to express otherwise.
Dance and movement therapy can be used in a similar way but has the added benefit of providing physical activity. Even children with severely restricted movements can benefit from working with a dance therapist for self-expression, exploring emotions, and improving their physical condition.
Dance therapists work based on the philosophy that the brain and body are connected, so physical movements benefit both the body and the mind.
Art is genuinely for everyone, and as the inclusion movement gains momentum, more children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities will be able to find the joy and self-confidence that comes from creating. Anyone can do art.
It can be done in informal settings such as a classroom, as part of professional therapy, or just more casually in a group of friends or with parents at home. Children with cerebral palsy, like anyone else, can and should benefit from creating art, finding self-esteem, seeing their abilities, socializing with peers, and using a creative outlet for expression and communication.
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- Mak, H., & Fancourt, D. (2019, April). Arts engagement and self‐esteem in children: Results from a propensity score matching analysis. ResearchGate.
Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/332419189_Arts_engagement_and_self-esteem_in_children_results_from_a_propensity_score_matching_analysis
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Retrieved from: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED529766.pdf
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