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Re: Assistive devices, or other strategies


From: melissa (melissa_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun Feb 11 2001 - 05:45:56 PST

>I have a HS student with severe tremors and a passion for artmaking.
>He is often successful in compensating by using more pressure,
>working to a different scale, or bracing his hands and wrists. If
>there are any art therapists or others with direct knowledge in
>other techniques or resources, please pass ideas along. He is bright
>and determined, and actually thinks he wants to be an art teacher.
>Our Special Ed. department is in a position to assist him; they
>would also benefit from any of your collective wisdom pertaining to
>art and this type of disability. Thank you.
>Dorothy Kane
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Hi Dorothy,

Although each case is different, I'll present to you at least a few
things to think about. Being that your student is both cognitively
there (many of the students that I worked with that had severe
physical disabilities also had severe cognitive disabilities as well)
and is motivated, you have half the battle already won. Letting the
student try things out on his own and make his own adaptations as
needed is an excellent approach. Especially since he is in high
school already, he already knows much of what works and what doesn't
for him. Plus, since he's making his own adaptations/accommodations,
he will be more apt to utilize them.
Has he tried larger-handled brushes, etc? Ask him if there are
positions, actions, etc. that either help ease the tremors or those
which exacerbate them. For example, when a particular student of mine
took her right hand and moved it across midline to her left side, she
became much less accurate. Is fatigue a factor? Many of my students
could do the work, but they had a limited amount of time before the
arm muscles, etc. became fatigued and they lost their strength and/or

For some students, all they needed was a slight support of the wrist
or arm. Sometimes they wore a special brace, while other times some
responded well to me holding their arm at the elbow, etc. You could
buy or make an artist's leaning bridge, which would enable him to
lean his hand/arm right over his artwork, thus providing needed
support or stability. There are even special arm rests marketed to
computer users that enable mobility while providing the full support.

When I was student teaching, I had a third grade student who had
cerebral palsy and was extremely shaky - even when he walked or
talked. Projects using scissors were difficult for him, so I decided
to do a project that would capitalize on his strengths - tearing
paper. So all of the students designed a torn paper portrait after
being inspired by Matisse's "Green Stripe" painting. Excelling at
tearing the paper, his portrait was something he was proud of.
Another girl successfully completed the project despite severe
physical deformities (four fingers on one hand and a thumb-like
projection coming from her other shoulder, not to mention foot
deformities, etc.). Respecting her need to do as much as possible
independently, I or her classmates only interceded (such as holding
the paper) on the rare occasions when she asked for assistance.

Another thing to consider is stability. Try using a container for
water that has a wider base and is shorter. A dog dish works well, as
do those special tippy paint cups. That way he won't be embarrassed
if the container tips. Placing a container inside a roll of masking
tape can be another simple solution. Taping down the paper to the
work surface or using clips also helps. Perhaps putting the work
surface closer to him may also help.

Don't forget to consider higher-tech adaptations. Simply working and
doing art on the computer can be liberating for some. The website the
Judy mentioned will have some of the assistive technology adaptations
for art that I put together.
I wish your student the best!

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