Engaging Art Activities: The Special Artist’s Handbook

by Debra Muzikar

I was delighted to receive a complementary copy for review in the mail of the Second Edition of “The Special Artist’s Handbook,” by Susan Rodriguez.Special Artists Handbook

This book should be used in every class which has special education students, including gifted students. The book is project-based with adaptations for the needs of the students with special needs. Each adaptation is well-thought out with often an explanation about the needs of each student. For example on designing a cowboy stocking, under the adaptation for autistic spectrum disorder and Asperger’s syndrome, it reads “Students who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome are typically of normal intelligence – often above average. The most common feature of the disorder is an inability to initiate and maintain appropriate social interaction. Have students ‘buddy up’ to design cowboy boots for one another! Make sure they understand what their partner wants in terms of style, motif, and design. When completed, allow time for each pair of students to discuss their process.”

Section One of the book has a description of various different learning styles based on diagnoses of autism, intellectual disability, learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairment, deaf and hard of hearing, visual impairment, and gifted. The book includes a chapter on etiquette for interaction with students with disabilities and a sign-language guide.

In the etiquette section it does have a page on Person First Language (PFL). My only criticism of the book is it doesn’t take into account the evolving language in the Autistic community. See my prior blog on Person First Language. I also take exception with calling Asperger’s a disorder as I prefer to think of it as a different way of viewing the world.

The great thing about the book is it’s integrated with over forty stimulating art activities, followed by a section on adaptive aids and another on how to create a fun and safe art classroom. For a while now, I’ve had a vision the Art of Autism would have a regular column on instructive art activities. Maybe there is someone out there who would like to take this on.

The last section contains art works by “Art Heroes in History.” Rodriguez has included a great little section which highlights artists with varying special needs; Vincent van Gogh (Emotional Disturbance) and Frida Kahlo (Orthopedic Impairment) are included.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait
Vincent van Gogh, “Self-Portrait”

My son Kevin has been influenced by Van Gogh’s bright palette and thick paint.

I was not aware that Degas and Monet had visual impairments and Matisse had an orthopedic impairment. The person Rodriguez selected for autism is the amazing Stephen Wiltshire.

Stephen Wiltshire "London Panorama"
Stephen Wiltshire “London Panorama”

I think this is a great book for teachers and parents. Highly recommend. It can be purchased at a company with a lot of wonderful special education art books and videos: Crystal Productions. The book costs $34.95. A worthwhile investment for sure.

Debra Muzikar, is co-founder of the Art of Autism collaborative and author of the book “The Art of Autism: Shifting Perspectives.”

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