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Re: paras in the art classroom - brushing technique


From: Melissa Enderle (melissa_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun May 19 2002 - 12:53:27 PDT

Dear Jean,
Although I cannot say for sure why the para was brushing the student's arm,
I can give you an example of how and when it was used on one of my students
with special needs.
I had a student with microencephaly (which results in severe cognitive
disabilities) who displayed some autistic behaviors and was tactilly
defensive. Despite my best efforts, he refused to touch, much less work with
any sort of art material I introduced. When speaking with the occupational
therapist, she said that she would try brushing him right before art class.
With a plastic brush, she firmly but gently brushed his arms. She explained
that this was a way of desensitizing him and getting him used to touch. She
also wrapped him tightly in a blanket as another technique. Even though it
didn't make much sense to the non-trained eye why one would do this, I will
have to say I noticed a dramatic improvement. First, he stopped screaming
when I came in - a welcome first step. I started my goals simply - touching
the material was good. He began to tolerate hand-over-hand work and began
initiating reaching for the materials - including clay.
So, hopefully that is what the para was trying to do.

As for the para appearing to be unwilling to involve herself or the student
in the art experience, that is a whole other issue. Sometimes the para just
doesn't know what to do. Or perhaps his/her personal experiences with art
have been negative. With some, just asking them to do a particular thing is
all they need. Others need direct modeling. Ask the para for advice or
approaches used in other classes, as he/she works with the student all day
and may be able to offer insight. Hopefully any uncooperative or abusive
para will be promptly removed from the situation, with better matches
occurring. Having a good communication with the classroom/special ed
teachers and therapists is immensely helpful for the students with severe

On 5/19/02 6:11 PM, "Jean Womack" <> wrote:

> I subbed in a ceramics classroom last week. The paraprofessional came in
> with a girl in a wheelchair, probably a cerebral palsy patient. On Tuesday,
the para was brushing the girl's
> arm with a small plastic brush. She said it relaxed her. But the girl
> started screaming and did not stop until the para took her out of the
> classroom. She
> didn't want to do that. She didn't want to read to the girl the list of
> student resources that I had passed out to the rest of the students.
> Finally I told her she could not brush the girl on the leg in my classroom
> and she should leave. What I said was, "not here." After she left, I called
> the Special Ed department head and complained about it. I
> What is your experience with the arm and leg brushing of disabled students
> by paraprofessionals?
> Jean Womack
                   | Melissa Enderle |
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Melissa Enderle