Learning Disability Week 2021

The theme of this year’s Learning Disabilities Week is Art and Creativity. Mikaela Paterson, Team Manager for the VALUES project, talks about some of the ways in which being creative can be beneficial to people with learning disabilities.

This is a great theme to celebrate for Learning Disabilities Week as it’s so important to so many people with and without learning disabilities.

We do lots of arts, crafts and other creative activities like drama and music as part of our VALUES project, which supports people with learning disabilities in Leicester. Art, in some form, is accessible to everyone and anyone. There are many benefits to being creative and these often compliment the needs of people with a learning disability very well.

Sense of accomplishment

When you have a learning disability there are more limitations for you than other people. Most people with a learning disability do not have a career or a family of their own. Their ability to achieve things through the use of language, particularly through reading and writing, may be diminished and most people with a learning disability do not reach a high level of education. Art on the other hand is one of those things that everyone can do to their own level.

Arts and crafts is my personal hobby of choice so I know first-hand the sense of accomplishment it can bring. When I have created something that I am happy with I get a little rush of pride and self-esteem. The sense of accomplishing something makes us feel better about ourselves. I can only imagine that that sense is even more important to the people we support when they do not have so many other ways to feel that sense of achievement.

If arts and crafts aren’t your thing there are other ways to be creative, such as making music or dancing, all of which can achieve the same sense accomplishment and self-esteem.

A person with learning disabilities smiling and holding a piece of decorated fabric

Problem solving

Creating a piece of crafts is like solving a problem. You have an idea of what you want to make and from there you need to search out the items you are going to use, work out how you are going to put them together and then you have to deal with the range of problems that come along that you hadn’t foreseen.

Problem solving is a great skill for anyone to practise but particularly if you have a learning disability, as it may not come as easily. Plus, if you live in a world where most of life’s problems are solved for you and it’s harder for you to assess danger and be out in the world on your own, then solving problems through art becomes a rare piece of independence. This low-stakes kind of problem solving is accessible to all.

Observation and imagination

People on the Autistic Spectrum find it harder to deal with anything abstract. They need something tangible and preferably something they can see right in front of them. Creating art is a good middle ground between tangible and abstract to help people with autism to practice using their imagination.

It’s not a real rainbow on the page but it is a representation of one, so things do exist in another way other than the actual physical item. In order to create a representation of something, we must observe it in real life and work out how that can be translated to a 2D object on the page, or into a dance movement or a sound on an instrument, so you need keen levels of observation.

A person with learning disabilities holds a picture of a rainbow that he painted

Reduces stress

Being creative, whether that involves making music, dancing, painting, sewing, or any other form, is relaxing. It switches own minds away from our troubles so we can focus on relaxing into our chosen hobby. It’s a great way to pass time, and still have something to show for it in the end. This is important for us all, learning disability or not.

More about VALUES

If you would like to share your creative skill with VALUES clients by volunteering or you have a learning disability and want to join some of our sessions, you can find out more about VALUES on our VALUES page, or you can contact us.

Mikaela Paterson

Mikaela Paterson is a Team Manager for VAL's VALUES Learning Disability Support project. Mikaela can be found on Twitter at @PatersonMikaela or contacted via mikaela.p@valonline.org.uk.