Activities for Special Needs Children: Expression Through Dance

Activities for Special Needs Children: Expression Through Dance

For children with special needs such as sensory processing disorder, autism, or other socio-emotional or physical difficulties, enjoyable activities might be few and far between.  Children with these needs might have a list of symptoms, including poor attention, difficulty interacting with peers, limited body awareness, or trouble being in social situations that might be over stimulating.  Expression through dance or participating in group movement are activities for special needs children that can help improve these difficulties and put children with special needs on the level of their neurotypical peers.

How does dance help with children with special needs?  From just a physical point of view, movement and dance help with body awareness, which refers to knowing and understanding parts of your body and how they function.  For example, children with sensory processing disorder or other similar difficulties might not understand where their bodies are in space or how to work their muscles in their fingers for fine motor control to pick up an object.  Children with these difficulties might look clumsy and stumble around, or they might have trouble buttoning a sweater or picking up something on the ground. 

When we dance, we need to be aware of the space around us, align our bodies, or follow particular movement patterns, which involve gross and fine motor control.  When children with special needs are taught dance, they are practicing these skills.  While most of these activities for special needs children do not suggest a right or wrong way to do things, dance allows children to explore the space and their bodies, and through direction from instructors, will be able to practice and improve their movements.  Through regular and organized dance, children with special needs will be asked to replicate particular body movements.

Another way dance activities for special needs children help is through promoting social interaction.  Many of these classes are groups, and children are placed with their peers.  They might have to do large group dances or partner dances, which requires children with special needs to place trust in their peers.  They might also be required to give some eye contact or appropriately touch a peer, which can be difficult tasks for some children with special needs.  These activities for special needs children also help give them confidence.  Children in these dance programs often give recitals, so they perform in front of parents and the community.  Even in each class, they are performing in front of each other, which strengthens that peer bond and motivates them to improve.

Dance is not just a physical activity, but also it is a form of creative expression.  Some children with special needs have great difficulty expressing themselves or understanding emotions.  Dance gives children a chance to break out of their shells and express emotions in a non-threatening and non-judgmental environment.  Dancing activities for special needs children can be stimulating or calming and relaxing.  You can re-enact situations through dance or just practice moving to a beat.  Children with special needs might be instructed to try to move their bodies in new and interesting ways they might not have thought of before.

Activities for special needs children are available for all abilities; dance is not just limited to children with sensory processing disorder or autism.  Think about what the structure can do for kids with ADHD, or what special instruction can do for children with physical difficulties such as prosthetic limbs or cerebral palsy.  When looking into programs, consider instructors who have experience with special needs or have special classes dedicated to a particular special needs population.  If no special class is available, talk to instructors about modifications they can make for your child so he can get the best benefit from dance.

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Written by: Cara Batema See other articles by Cara Batema
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