American Art Therapy Association has quoted that “Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art-making to improve
and enhance the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages.
It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem, and self-awareness, and achieve insight.”There is no single way to provide art therapy; as a result, there are some factors to consider.
- It can look very different when practiced by and with different individuals.
- It can be free-flowing or structured, open-ended, or goal-oriented. For children and adults with autism,
- It can be a wonderful way to open doors to self-expression and engagement.
Although, it may seem cliche that art and autism are a great combination for people with autism of all ages. For those of us who cannot always get words to come out of our mouths, art offers a way of self-expression. For children, it allows their imagination to run wild and come to life before their eyes.
As I’ve mentioned so many times before about the characteristics and traits of autism a major aspect of autism is difficulties in communication. This can be anywhere from completely non-verbal to having a hard time processing language and turning it back into a smooth conversation for others around them. Though communication may be difficult, we still want to express it ourselves.
Art allows those with autism to speak visually.
WHY USE ART THERAPY TO TREAT AUTISM?
One of the hallmarks of autism spectrum disorders is difficulty with verbal and social communication.
In some cases, people with autism are literally nonverbal and unable to use speech to communicate at all. In other cases, people with autism have a hard time processing language and turning it into smooth, easy conversation. People with autism may also have a tough time reading faces and body language. As a result, they may have difficulty telling a joke from a statement or sarcasm from sincerity around them.
Meanwhile, many people with autism have an extraordinary ability to think visually “in pictures.” Many can turn that ability to good use in processing memories, recording images and visual information, and expressing ideas through drawing or other artistic media. Art is a form of expression that requires little or no verbal interaction that can open doors to communication.
All too often, it’s assumed that a nonverbal person or a person with limited verbal capabilities is incompetent in other areas. As a result, people on the autism spectrum may not be exposed to opportunities to use artistic media, or the opportunities may be too challenging in other ways (in large class settings, for example). Art therapy offers an opportunity for therapists to work one-on-one with individuals on the autism spectrum to build a wide range of skills in a manner that may be more comfortable (and thus more effective) than spoken language.
HOW ART THERAPY IS DIFFERENT FROM ART CLASSES?
Art therapy is a tool for helping clients to access their emotions. By contrast, art classes are intended to provide students with instruction on how to achieve specific artistic effects or goals. While art classes may be appropriate for individuals with autism, they are not a substitute for art therapy.
WHAT ART THERAPISTS DO FOR PEOPLE WITH AUTISM
The research is somewhat sketchy regarding the impact of art therapy on people with autism however to let you know. The literature consists mainly of case studies and papers describing the observed impact of art therapy programs. Some of the papers written and presented on the subject, however, suggest that art therapy can do a great deal. In some cases, it has opened up a whole world of opportunity for an individual with autism who has significant artistic talent. In other cases,
it has created a unique opportunity for personal bonding. Other possible outcomes include:
- improved ability to imagine and think symbolically
- improved ability to recognize and respond to facial expressions
- improved ability to manage sensory issues (problems with stickiness, etc.)
- improved fine motor skills
THE BENEFITS OF ART FOR AUTISTIC CHILDREN
There are a lot of benefits but these are just a few I came up with. They are as follows:
*Offers a visual communication
*Improves communication skills:
Art therapy can help stimulate the diffuse part of the brain and also help children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in expressing non-verbal conversations. For example, children with Autism Spectrum Disorders can produce a painting or describe something as a way for them to communicate using symbols or icons. This process can help develop communication directly and can help in their thinking process. This method can also train children with Autism Spectrum Disorders to focus more and can directly engage in interacting with their peers and others around them. It is also a good way to reduce anxiety and help improve their emotional development.
*Easy way to help resolve conflicts they can not verbally express.
- Build and develop feelings and emotions using art
Art therapy is also good for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders because they are sometimes challenged in maintaining emotional stability around them. Hence, by drawing or making a craft, it can train them to express feelings through drawing or drawing activities such as making collages and crafts alone. This therapy is also used to train their endurance and patience in solving an art task other than helping to improve their expression and feelings.
*Helps with imaging and thinking symbolically
*Improves the ability to recognize (and respond) to facial expressions
*Helps with Self-Esteem and Self-Awareness.
*Can be used to help with Sensory Processing Issues
*Improves fine motor skills
*Help with social skills – As mentioned in one part of my video that most autistics struggle to read body language and cues from people along with the tones of voice and facial expressions too.
*Art therapy can address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
Sensory processing disorder (SPD), is a pervasive problem in autism that contributes to a great deal of difficult emotions and behaviors, yet is too often overlooked. Seemingly innocuous sensations, such as the texture of the carpet, fluorescent lighting, crunchy foods, and the hum of a refrigerator, may be irritating, or even excruciating, to people with autism (“like nails on a chalkboard,” as a client once put it). When thus overstimulated, people with autism may become agitated, avoidant, or simply “shut down” and become impassive in order to escape the unpleasant stimulus.
Sensory fixations are another common feature of autism. Some people may stare in rapt attention at their fingers as they flick them back and forth or endlessly twist tiny strips of paper. Repetitively engaging in such self-stimulating behaviors (or “stimming”) can make people with autism stand out,
prevent them from interacting with others, and can distract them from other activities, such as school work or play. On the other hand, these sensations may provide some calming, soothing feelings when the person is agitated. In art therapy, the goal is to channel non-functional or inappropriate stimming into socially acceptable, creative outlets.
*Training the nervous system
The nervous system in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder is one of the important aspects. With that, multi-sensory use can help in building their feelings like listening and touching. For example, the use of musical instruments or practicing singing periodically and continuously each time different therapy. This method can build communication skills and sensory sensitivity during the therapeutic process. It also corresponds to the unique character and variance of each child with Autism Spectrum Disorder being able to perform a positive interaction during therapy. Another example that relates to their sense of touch is by using ‘slime,’ clay, kinetic sand, and many other forms of craft materials to help them explore and improve the nervous system.
WAYS TO INCORPORATE AUTISM ART THERAPY AT HOME
PAPER AND CRAYONS:
This is the easiest way to get started. Get out whatever art supplies and let your child have fun.
Autism art therapy does not have to be complicated or even overly structured.
USE TO DE-STRESS
Another way to incorporate autism art therapy at home is by using it as a redirection. Redirecting a child who is overwhelmed with art is a great calming technique. Before getting into a meltdown, have them draw out how they are feeling or what they want to happen.
Not only will it help with communication, but it will cause them to focus on one activity and calm themselves down.
Pinterest is an autistic parent’s best friend! There are so many DIY crafts out there for all kids. One of the favorites we have made is the DIY Sensory Bags for Autism. They are so easy to make, super cheap, and a perfect calming tool for later too! Autism art therapy is an amazing resource for children with autism. It is so easy to incorporate into everyday life. So get your pencils, paints
and so much more art materials out and get to doodling, crafting, painting and so much more! You’ll be really surprised and amazed to see inside your child a talented artist of some kind. In addition to its efficacy in improving sensory, social, and emotional functioning, art therapy is an excellent treatment for autism because it is inherently reinforcing. Kids get enjoyment, stress relief, and a boost to their self-confidence from tackling art projects or simply exploring art materials. That they are practicing life skills while doing so may not enter their minds.
Art therapy is a unique form of treatment for autism, as it helps mitigate symptoms, while also channeling autistic behaviors into an expressive, creative outlet. It promotes communication, emotional growth, and sensory integration while also fostering social interaction in a fun setting.