Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Leadership Studies


In our culture, our history, and our society, the arts play a vital role. However, despite maintaining such a fundamental place in our shared experiences, the arts’ role in education is in constant need of clarification and defense. In addition, the presence of individuals with cognitive and developmental disabilities has become increasingly common in society, and yet special educational programs for these individuals, especially in their early years, have proven unable to find total success. These two fields of education – arts education and special education – thus share a common struggle: a need to find an established place in educational environments. I believe these two forms of education can complement each other – if education in the arts can help special education programs find new curricular means to encourage student success, this in turn can reaffirm the significance of the arts in education overall. In this thesis, I will demonstrate how a comprehensive integration of the arts into special education can be instrumental in helping to develop successful educational programs for individuals with special needs, particularly autism and related learning and intellectual disabilities.

The relationship I will examine is not simply founded on instrumental summations of the arts’ benefits. Instead, I intend to demonstrate that the connections between arts education and special education exist on a deeper level – one that demonstrates the arts’ intrinsic value as it relates to the emotional, social, and mental development of those with special needs. The remainder of this introduction will examine how the existing literature has considered both the instrumental and intrinsic benefits of the arts in education. It will also demonstrate more concretely the challenges that arts education and special education face in modern society. Finally, I will outline the rest of my thesis, creating my personal framework for demonstrating the intrinsic benefits of the arts in special education, in theory and in practice.