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Three Simple At-Home Art Ideas for Disabled and Special Needs Individuals

Activities for special needs and disabled individuals that are simple, have therapeutic value, and are also fun is like striking gold. Craft therapy is a valuable tool for promoting opportunities to improve physical dexterity, cognitive functioning, emotional regulation, self-esteem, and social engagement. Here are three super simple art ideas for those with special needs - and why you should give them a try as occupational therapy, cognitive, and emotional skill-building activities - using supplies you can easily find at home or at many local general and craft stores.



DIY Playdough

Molding these soft materials can be easy and fun for those with limited muscle control and engages multiple senses, particularly when scented play dough is used.


Skill Building

  • Intrinsic Muscle Strength of Hands

  • Finger Isolation

  • Tripod Grasp Development

  • Thumb Opposition

  • Opening Up the Web Space

  • Bilateral Hand Coordination

Ingredients

  • 2½ cups water

  • 2½ tablespoons olive oil

  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour

  • 1¼ cup salt

  • 5 teaspoons cream of tartar

  • Optional: Natural food coloring (liquid or powder coloring, adjusting amount for your desired color) and 5–10 drops essential oil per section/color.

These measurements will make enough dough for 4–6 colors. Double the recipe if you want more!


DIY Play Dough Recipe

  1. Place the water and olive oil into a medium pot on the stove. Simmer on medium heat while you prepare your dry ingredients.

  2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, and cream of tartar. Whisk until incorporated.

  3. Add half of the dry mixture into the pot with your water and oil. Whisk for 5 seconds to incorporate, then add the second half of the dry mixture into the pot.

  4. Whisk continuously on medium heat until the mixture is smooth and lump free, about 15–30 seconds.

  5. Once the mixture becomes slightly thicker, switch to using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to continue to stir and knead it. Keep stirring to avoid burning the dough. Be patient. The mix will take around 2–3 minutes of constant stirring and kneading until it takes on a play dough-like consistency.

  6. Once you have a thick, doughy consistency, remove the dough from the pot and place it onto a clean surface.

  7. Let cool for 5 minutes, then knead the dough for 1 minute.

  8. Split into 4–6 equal pieces.

  9. If you'd like, add any coloring and essential oils to one piece at a time, then knead until fully incorporated. Repeat with different colors and oils in the other sections of dough. Wear gloves during this step to avoid staining your hands with the dyes.


Torn Paper Art

This simple project is so easy with materials you already have at home and is a great activity for varying physical and cognitive abilities and different ages, plus it enhances fine motor skills.


Skill Building

  • Grasp

  • Hand Strength

  • Eye-Hand Coordination

  • Bilateral Coordination

Chigirie is the Japanese art of tearing paper to create a collage.


Take any type of paper and tear it up into the sizes most helpful to the artists working and the project and use glue or tape to stick each piece onto another sheet of paper. You can use a template that offers an outline the artist can follow (search the web for coloring pages to print out) or simply let them create whatever familiar or abstract image they'd like.



Pinch Pots

Much like play dough, clay is a good material to use for crafts for kids with motor disabilities. Free-form molding materials like clay are typically excellent for use in crafts for children with motor disabilities.


Skill Building

  • Improves Focus

  • Promotes Mindfulness and Relieves Feelings of Anxiety

  • Fine Motor Skills

Clay pinch pots are created by forming the clay into a circle and then pinching the edges to create a pot-like circle. Use modeling clay (I loooove these bright colors!) and let it dry after you've created your item or bake it in the oven according to the package instructions.


Clay and molding art projects can enhance creativity for children with differing abilities while allowing those with fine motor challenges to work with ease without the need for small art tools that may require a more precise grip.



Enhancing Therapy

You can add these essential oils to your play dough, diffuse them in the room you're working in, or in scent therapy pots that are used at specific times throughout your art projects. Quality essential oils work therapeutically with the body for emotional support and promote physical well-being.


Tips for Assistance and Inclusion

Here are some tips to help you when a child or adult has a motor disability or limited use of hands and arms.

  • Proper Area Set Up: Ask questions to learn about the artist's preferences and needs.

    • Change the height or angle of a project using things like table easels.

    • Use or make adaptive art tools: use items with rounded handles for those who are most comfortable with a fist grip, add Rubber Cement or modeling clay as a no-slide gripper for pens and paintbrushes, add weights on the ends of tools.

    • Stabilize materials using tape, velcro, or non-skid backing.

  • Assisting: Don’t assume the artists you're working with need or want help. Art is subjective and a process, so allow the artist to try different techniques and learn in a way that allows them to explore. Encourage their creativity. Be ready to help guide them in making their own choices and learning from doing rather than just being told what to do or trying to mimic somebody else's final art piece.

  • Modifications to Projects: If something isn't comfortable for the artist or they feel that something isn't "working," help them navigate their emotional reactions and how they can pivot to find other options in completing the activity.

  • Focus on Fun: Art is about having fun and being creative, not making the same thing as everybody else. Help the artist remember that these art activities aren't about perfection but the process of observing and trying new things without a specific aesthetic outcome requirement.


Additional Resources



Share your projects, helpful tips, testimonials, and other resources in the comments!

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