What Should a Child with Special Needs Know About Claude Monet?

Tom is in high school, and is taking a graphic arts class.  He was doing all right...  not wowing anyone with his artistic abilities.  But then my husband took the time, during "back to school night," to chat with the teacher about her goals and interests.

He explained that Tom, far from being uninterested in fine art, has spent many happy hours exploring the galleries of art museums in Boston, Philadelphia and New York.  While homeschooling, we did a full unit on the Impressionists, watching videos, recreating paintings, and - of course - going to see the real thing.  Unlike most 15 year old boys, Tom has chosen posters of paintings by Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso to decorate his room.

Naturally, this information changed everything for Tom's teacher, who suddenly realized how much she has in common with a 15-year-old with special needs.  "Can Tom sketch from a piece of art?" she wondered.  My husband explained that yes, indeed, he'd been doing just that for many years!  We're looking forward to seeing where she's able to take her graphic art instruction now that she knows a little more about Tom.

Enjoying - or even loving - fine art is not usually high on the list of goals for people with special needs.  AFTER you've mastered socialization, math, reading, and a thousand other skills, many educators and parents think, THEN there might be time for what are often considered to be "extras."

The reality, however, is that a child with special needs may never master social skills, become a fluent reader, or fully grasp quadratic equations.  Meanwhile, that same child might well find his passion, his friends and his focus in the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In fact, the Met is one of the very few art museums out there with a regularly scheduled gallery tour and education program specifically designed for both children and adults with special needs.  There's a lot to love about the program, called Discoveries.

  • First, the program is designed NOT as a "separate but equal" program in a segregated space, but as a tool for engaging people with developmental challenges with the same art that engages everyone else.
  • Second, the program is very similar to typical programs; the greatest differences are that the groups are smaller, the tours are shorter, and the information is shared in multisensory ways.  Who couldn't benefit from that?
  • Lastly, the program is a part of the museum's regular offering.  Not a special day, month or event - just part of what the museum does for people who love fine art.

Do you know of another program that's similar to Discoveries?  Or have you and your family had experiences similar to ours?  Please share! 


  1. Hello, my son and I attend both Discoveries program at MET and the Create Ability program at MoMA. And the Jewish Museum in NYC also offers the Access Family Workshop for the kids with special needs. We feel very lucky to have these programs within reach.

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