Learning about Compensatory Support: Adapted Art Tools for poor fine motor control

EDER 679.08 Adaptive Technologies in Education. Toolkit Part A: Compensatory Support Introduction.

Glass, Meyer & Rose (2013) suggest “[…] including arts options, especially informed by UDL practices, can provide a rich range of unique and complex content, processes, and thinking habits for valuing, understanding, and making meaning of the world” (p. 116).

Type of Compensatory Support: Adapted art tools that remove or reduce the barrier caused by poor fine motor control

When to remediate versus compensate?

Dave Edyburn (2002) arguesAt some point in the educational process, we must recognize the need for compensatory approaches” (p. 2). He further asks “How much failure data is needed to trigger a decision to de-emphasize remediation approaches and activate the use of compensatory approaches that enhance a child’s functional performance?” (p. 2). A great question, especially when considering the child’s perspective for how many times must a child attempt to do any task, in a certain method, when the method is clearly failing? Some fine motors skills are developed as a child grows and with practice. Yet, despite remediation, some learners may struggle with the process of forming shapes and with the entire cognitive production of holding a writing tool (Broun, 2009). A person may not be able physically improve with remediation due to a learning disability or a permanent injury for example. Broun (2009) advises “Teachers must exercise caution in trying to elicit a skill that may never reach a level of proficiency sufficient to enable students to demonstrate what they know or think in an efficient and fluid manner” (p. 16).

If we are following the guides of Differentiated Instruction supporting diversity (Tomlinson, & McTighe, 2006), educators should encourage a variety of methods to represent knowledge and understandings. Further, if we are fostering principles for Universal Designs for Learning (CAST, 2014; Rose & Meyer, 2002) educators should encourage individual ways of expressing understandings and also individual use of materials. Glass, Meyer & Rose (2013) argue “arts educators will have to be more responsive to individual differences by recognizing the variation in difficulties that their students will have and addressing them in productive ways” (p. 104). Thus, by providing improved access to the visual arts through adapted art tools, educators can help support learners with poor fine motor control by embedding adapted art tools within creating. Who we include or do not include in any educational setting, sends a clear message on who is valued within a school and the Fine Arts are no exception.

General Overview of Adapted Art Tools as Compensatory Support

Goal: to support the authentic participation of learners with low fine motor control in an art setting.

Barrier: a Fine Motor or physical disability preventing a person from fully participating in an art activity.

A video showing an example of adapted art tools for fine motor use. BridgeSchooler. (2009, Oct 22). Bridge School News Network 10/22/09 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6HW5CXaoiU

Creating visual art and design projects is a complex process involving the physical mechanics of hand control and the cognitive component of organizing, creating and composing images with color, shapes, lines, textures and other materials. Further, creating is a process which serves different purposes based on the context and the author’s intent and can form as a method of communication between people.

Similar to the concept of writing on paper, creating or forming marks on a surface in art (cutting with scissors, gluing, pencil crayon coloring, painting, sculpting clay etc.) often requires a fine motor control of an art tool such as a pencil, paintbrush, clay carving tool, scissors and other hand held devices. Similar to printing or handwriting, thinking too much about the process of creating combined with the physical aspect of attempting to create intended mark takes the energy away from the purpose or goal (Newton, Dell & Petroff, 2012). Some people simply do not have a physical capability to hold a tool to create art the way they would like. Adapted art tools can provide support for learners with poor fine motor control. There are a few specifically adapted art technologies available on the market designed to assist in a variety of ways and there are many creative adaptive ways to modify current tools for a person with a fine motor disability. Which is the best? This depends on the specific needs of each individual, and the tasks they wish to be able to perform independently.

Who would benefit from an adapted art tool?

  • One with fine motor disabilities (for example hypotonia or apraxia)
  • One with a physical disability preventing fine motor hand use
  • One with developmental coordination disorder
  • One with motor dsygraphia or spatial dysgraphia
  • One developing fine motor skills with/without conjunction with Occupational Therapy
  • One who has lost the ability of fine motor skills as the result of a stroke, brain injury or influencing illness
  • One with poor balance and coordination
  • One with a vision impairment
  • One who may not have identified learning disabilities
  • One with unsteady reaching & holding
  • One who enjoys tactile or “hands on” learning experiences
  • One who enjoys visual learning (representation)
  • One who prefers expressing their learning visually
  • One who wants to try/experiment with different methods of expression
  • One who has poor physical strength due to an injury or illness
  • One with oral challenges

How might an adaptive art tool support learning? 

  • Encourages actively participating within peer projects which increases a sense of belonging.
  • Fosters a sense of interconnectedness with others. Art is often created for “an audience”. Thus fostering, what Wolf (1998) calls an exchange & response. Art can often open dialogue between peers, community and home which increases a sharing of perspectives (Greene, 2003; Jensen, 2003; Glass, Meyer & Rose, 2013).
  • Helps a learner create a “product” representing the conceptual structure of knowledge (Alberta Regional Consortia, 2014; Jensen, 2003) as part of UDL and DI learning strategies.
  • Encourages imagination & exploration of ideas through materials (play & purpose).
  • Fosters cross-curricular integration if a learner has access to multiple means of representing their ideas (CAST, 2014) in any subject and fosters increased understanding in other domains (Fiske, 1999). For example, a learner can create a painting to express their feelings and ideas regarding studying the Holocaust in Social Studies (Wolf, 2008).
  • Promotes learner choice (Mason, Steedly & Thorman, 2008; Wolf, 2008). “There are not so many “right” answers as there are multiple, effective, powerful, or stunning ones. Think of all the ways there are to create a portrait […] But to realize a powerful solution or new version means making choices about what to say and how to say it.” (Wolf, 2008, p.7).
  • Inspires a democratic learning environment where students are active participants in personal expression, choice and voice (Mason, Steedly & Thorman, 2008).
  • Increases engagement when a learner can fully or more directly participate in an inclusive environment and activities (CAST, 2014; Rose & Meyer, 2002).
  • Supports self-expression for learners with oral challenges.
  • Fosters self-identity & empowerment (Taylor, 2006).
  • Promotes independence as students can paint/draw/cut/create without always relying solely on another person.
  • Increases the visual detail/intent/communication of a desired expressed art.
  • Encourages the individual style of a learner by removing/limiting a barrier and focusing on the message or intent of the art.
  • Creates an equal learning opportunity for students requiring fine motor support.
  • Supports an inclusive learning environment by promoting a sharing of experiences and perspectives. By truly listening to a child’s voice we can better understand their perspective. Children should be provided ample opportunity and multiple ways to share their identity, thoughts and feelings. The arts lend themselves in partnership and promote individualism and the community group.
  • Builds upon a learner’s current abilities, especially if a learner enjoys visual arts, thus fostering UDL’s principle of engagement increasing motivation, persistence and emotional self-regulation. Intrinsic motivation increases creativity (Jensen, 2003; Pink, 2009).

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