Book Review: Creative arts and people with profound and multiple learning disabilities: Education, therapy and leisure

Reviewed by Barbara O’Neill, Principal, Cheeverstown School, Dublin


The cover of this book is immediately appealing to the senses. Looking at the pink and white exploding fireworks, we almost hear them and anticipate the tactile stimulation of being touched by falling sparks. After the introduction, the book is set out in four chapters, dealing with Sensory Experience, Visual Arts, Music and Performing Arts.

The difficulty of integrating pupils with severe and profound learning disabilities is acknowledged in the introduction. Nevertheless, inclusion and involvement with peers and the wider community can, it is stated, be developed through involvement in the arts. The authors quote five service accomplishments from O’Brien (1990) as a roadmap which, if followed, give these pupils an opportunity to participate and contribute to the wider community. Service providers include teachers, carers and therapists.

The introduction promises help to a wide range of groups who work with pupils with severe and profound learning disabilities and describes what these disabilities mean in real terms. Lambe and Hogg explain what art is and thankfully broaden parameters for us.

The concepts of development and enjoyment are balanced well with emphasis on emotional development and development of communication. Good diagrams are used to illustrate the stages of engagement in creative activities.

The chapter on ‘sensory experience for all’ begins by sensibly allowing us to consider whether our sensory curriculum should stand alone or be related to the wider curriculum. Thankfully the authors allow schools and services to make their own decisions. The National Curriculum targets are well documented and commented upon and comparisons with the Primary School Curriculum (1971) noted. This chapter continues with material regarding sensory experiences as rewards and reinforcers and gives detailed descriptions of the various sensory experiences which can be introduced through aromatherapy, the natural environment and, of course, the Snoezelen. Particularly important, I thought, was the suggestion on the planned use of Snoezelen and the value of careful preparation based on clear aims and objectives. Practical information given includes commercially produced equipment, but with the warning that high expenditure does not necessarily constitute optimum use of equipment. The authors advise training and management of Snoezelen and also give practical advice on low-cost approaches to multisensory environments in spaces other than the Snoezelen itself-

Chapter Three deals with the visual arts in education, as a therapy, in the therapeutic setting and as leisure provision. Once again, balance is considered to be important. The lack of specificity of activities for pupils with severe and profound learning disabilities in the English National Curriculum is mentioned. Facilitation and enabling are seen as essential roles for the production of individualised work; here the emphasis seems to be on the word ‘individualised’, as opposed to carers and teachers doing the work and merely asking for passive participation. The chapter gives details on developing an adult art curriculum with samples of individual programme plans.

Music is the topic of the fourth chapter of this book. Once again the authors deal with the educational, therapeutic and leisure aspects of the subject. The flexibility allowed in the English National Curriculum is noted, allowing for easy translations of many activities in it to a curriculum content for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities. The distinction is again made between music education and music therapy. The authors quote Ansdell, who describes his own work as ‘therapy in music’. He and others have extended Nordoff and Robbins’s work to adults in the form of ‘creative music therapy’ . This, for me, denotes a flexible, broad approach to music.

Performing arts are dealt with in Lambe and Hogg’s final chapter. According to the authors, activity in drama for people with disabilities is slowly emerging, along with a growing realisation of the value of drama as education, therapy and leisure. It is acknowledged that drama can be undertaken in fully integrated productions or as more restricted and specialised activities. There are reading resources for us to consider. Much of the chapter is taken up with examples from Peter, who stresses the need to differentiate one’s drama teaching to reach some of our pupils all of the time. Peter’s book, Making drama special, is given as an invaluable source for teachers. As with all other aspects of the arts, the educational, therapeutic and leisure aspects of drama are discussed, with valuable information on groups who specialise in performing arts for people with disabilities.

In conclusion I found the book to be extremely informative, realistic and flexible in its approach and invaluable as a resource itself, as well as for the further resources it recommends.

Creative arts and people with profound and multiple learning disabilities: Education, therapy and leisure, by Loretto Lambe and James Hogg.