Art Therapy with a Dash of AI for Our Visually Spectacular Students

April 10, 2024

By Mechelle Gilford, NBCT – South Bend, Indiana

Ah, the magic of our classrooms! Where curious minds explore, imaginations take flight, and sometimes the most significant challenges morph into shimmering opportunities. Today, we’ll delve into the world of art therapy for our visually spectacular students – those brilliant young minds navigating the world with a unique visual experience.

As a Special Education Teacher who is also trained in Art Therapy, I’ve witnessed firsthand a range of complex emotions our students with visual impairments can hold. Not only do our students grapple with mastering a world perceived differently, but the fear of losing precious visual memories can loom large for some. These memories, after all, are the building blocks of a child’s understanding of the world, and their potential loss can lead to isolation and emotional distress.

But fret not, my fellow weavers of wonder! Enter art therapy, infused with a sprinkle of Artificial Intelligence (AI), to add an innovative approach to your time together. Art therapy has long been our trusty companion, fostering emotional expression, self-exploration, and developing coping mechanisms in our students. The incorporation of Artificial Intelligence adds another dimension to art therapy. Indeed, AI can significantly support students’ efforts to strengthen and retain their visual memories. 

Imagine this: A student, a creative spirit with a passion for color and texture, struggles to recall the details of a treasured family vacation. But fear not, for AI can be a helpful companion. AI-powered tools can personalize memory retrieval based on each student’s unique experiences. Perhaps an AI system generates soundscapes that bring the scene to life – the rhythmic crash of waves or the joyful shrieks of seagulls. These soundscapes can act as a bridge, allowing the student to re-enter a memory vividly.

That’s not all! AI becomes a maestro, conducting a multi-sensory symphony around our students’ creations.  Imagine audio descriptions that weave a tapestry of words, painting vivid visualizations alongside an artwork. Haptic feedback can bring the textures to life, allowing students to feel the brushstrokes or the roughness of sculpted clay. 

From Words to Worlds: 

  • Speaking Pictures into Being: Let students describe their memories or emotions and then watch AI-powered speech-to-image tools translate those words into a visual starting point for their artwork! This ignites creativity and bridges the gap between imagination and physical expression. For example, one of my 5th grade students with a visual impairment was brimming with silliness and was tasked to write a story for her class. She wanted to make a castle made out of pepperoni pizza for her setting! We then worked on descriptive words to bring this delectable world to life. Seeing her face light up as she saw her creation was such a joy! 
  • AI Art Detectives:  Traditionally, photographs and artwork rely on sight for understanding. But what if students could "see" with their hands?  Here’s where AI steps in!  We can utilize AI-powered tools to create detailed descriptions, transforming students into "AI Art Detectives." These descriptions enhance their tactile exploration by revealing the details hidden within famous art pieces, from the swirling galaxies in Van Gogh’s Starry Night to the subtle smile of the Mona Lisa.  Art history becomes an engaging, multi-sensory adventure!
  • The Future of Tactile Art Creation: As AI and 3D printing technologies evolve, explore the exciting potential of image-to-tactile conversion tools. Imagine students creating physical representations of AI-generated images, further enriching their creative journey. A 3D model of their envisioned world could be printed using materials with varying textures to represent different elements – a sandy beach, a smooth seashell, or a rough-hewn castle wall. Braille labels could be incorporated for additional information, creating a multi-sensory masterpiece.

By combining traditional art therapy techniques with AI’s potential, we can create a more inclusive and engaging learning environment for students with visual impairments.

The Synergy of Collaboration

Collaboration is the key to unlocking the full potential of supporting our visually spectacular students. Art therapists, AI developers, vision rehabilitation specialists, and educators like ourselves are all part of this grand symphony. By working together, we can create a comprehensive program that addresses these remarkable children’s emotional, cognitive, and sensory needs (Crockett et al., 2019).

So, let’s explore ways to integrate AI-assisted art therapy programs in our schools. After all, the prospect of losing vision may be daunting. Still, with art therapy and AI, we can empower our students to preserve their precious memories and continue to create new ones brimming with color, texture, and wonder!


Crockett, M. B., Atherton, H., Wright, M., & Jones, M. (2019). Collaboration as a key principle in supporting children and young people with vision impairment: A systematic review. Disability & Rehabilitation, 41 (18), 2207-2221.

Mechelle Gilford, NBCT

Mechelle Gilford is a highly accomplished educator with National Board Certification in Exceptional Education. Her extensive credentials include certifications in Fine Arts, English as a Second Language, Gifted Education, and Teaching Students with Visual Impairments. Gilford's academic achievements are equally impressive. She earned a double Master's Degree from the prestigious University of Florida and was selected as a Teacher and Scholar at the University of Notre Dame, further honing her expertise. What makes Gilford truly unique is her first-hand experience as a twice-exceptional individual. As a child, she participated in a Gifted Education program. Then, during the pandemic, Gilford received an ADHD diagnosis as an adult, embracing her neurodiversity. With her quirky and relatable teaching style, Gilford celebrates neurodiversity and is passionate about sharing her insights on topics related to twice-exceptionality. Her journey allows her to connect deeply with diverse learners and create inclusive classroom environments where all students feel understood and empowered to thrive. As a National Board Certified Teacher, Gilford exemplifies the highest standards of accomplished teaching practice. Her powerful combination of professional excellence, academic rigor, and lived experience makes her a true asset in supporting and advocating for exceptional students of all backgrounds.