Correlation between arts area and disability?
Do kids with dyslexia gravitate toward the visual arts? Does theater attract kids with attention issues? Many of us have hunches about how disabilities cluster in certain arts areas. Think of the stereotypical characteristics of an actor; can you imagine what kind of student will pursue theater?
I am researching the rates of disability in different disciplines. Right now I am focused on arts high schools because in those schools, students need to clearly choose which arts area they will learn. Though the sample size has been small so far, there is data to support an interesting conclusion: Kids seem to go into areas that balance, not reinforce, their shortcomings. In other words, people with disabilities may not exhibit our ideas of actors, musicians or painters. They actually may be quite different from those stereotypes.
For example, students with attention issues – the kids we thought would go into theater – seem to gravitate to music, an area that requires intense focus for hundreds of hours. Why would kids who struggle with concentration choose an interest that demands it? Does the structure of practicing appeal to them? After all, there is only one task at hand in the practice room. Once the door closes, it is you, your instrument, and a lot of notes. Maybe this minimalist and clearly-defined task is easier for these kids than a chaotic stage packed with emoting extroverts.
But let’s look at those emoters. We assume that they are the extroverts, the socially savvy kids who love to jabber in all situations. But my preliminary data suggests that some of those students are actually socially awkward, including a number with Asperger’s syndrome. Many struggle to show empathy and to communicate their feelings in real life. Perhaps these students are attracted to theater because it allows them to experience social interactions on stage, within the confines of a script. They can explore emotions in a regulated environment.
My thought is that by identifying whether arts disciplines tend to attract students with particular learning disabilities (and I do not have enough data to be certain of this), we can ask why trends occur.
- What cognitive strengths exist in arts areas and corresponding disabilities?
- What weaknesses are less important to success in a given field?
- What supports could be worked into specific arts training to help bolster weaknesses in young artists?
- Do kids go into arts areas because the disciplines balance their weaknesses, or do they go into areas where they might not need to use those weaknesses?
Other studies have examined the relationships between cognitive strengths and arts training, but few have looked at weaknesses and arts training.
I am finding this to be fascinating, and recently presented these findings at a conference at the Berklee Institute for Arts Education and Special Needs in Boston. People who attended the presentation had many ideas, and wanted more information, so I hope to continue the research. Stay tuned, and please let me know if you know any schools who might be interested in participating!
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