Art Therapy Applied To Children With Autism

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Art Therapy Applied To Children With Autism


Art therapy offers a way for children with autism to better express themselves, engage their imaginations, and promote abstract thought. While anecdotal evidence for the success of art therapy is plentiful, research into how art therapy works best with children with autism is scarce at this time. For children and adults with autism, Art Therapy can be an amazing way to open the doors of expression and participation. Art therapy is a unique form of autism therapy because it helps alleviate symptoms, as well as directs autism-like behaviors toward expressive, creative outlets.


In addition to its effectiveness at improving sensory, social, and emotional functioning, art therapy is a great autism treatment because it is reinforcing. Studies show that children with autism exhibit less behavior problems following participation in artistic activities, especially if using individual arts therapy sessions. In addition to ABA therapy, introducing art therapy to increase the development of social skills for children with autism has been used as a successful alternative. Art therapy gives individuals with autism a way to develop social skills through another medium, in a comfortable environment, and where they may find joy and success.

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Much of the work that art therapists do to build social skills between clients happens one-on-one, but can be fostered in group settings as well. Having a limited number of art supplies allows children to practice sharing and taking turns, and to enhance social skills among peers. Art therapist Jessica Stallings says in those cases, she will frequently give a limited amount of art supplies, giving children a chance to practice things such as sharing and taking turns. For instance, while working with a young boy struggling with a recent diagnosis of both autism and epilepsy, she allowed him to create narrative drawings that expressed his feelings and frustrations.


A Florida State University researcher led a study in which he interviewed art therapists working with children with ASD in order to gain a better understanding of their techniques and approaches. Art therapists working with children with ASD. In fact, the art therapists found that frequent art therapy sessions helped children with ASD, whether in school or at home, in things such as modulating emotions, engaging with peers and family members, and building confidence. This means therapy sessions enable children with ASD to practice acknowledging and controlling their emotions in a controlled setting. Art therapy offers the chance for therapists to work with individuals who are on the autism spectrum one-on-one, building a broad array of skills in a way that can be more comfortable (and therefore more effective) than talking.

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For individuals on the autism spectrum, art is a perfect vehicle for encouraging individuals to express themselves. People with autism are typically visual learners, so including art is very natural and effective for communication. Because children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are visual thinkers, art is a natural way for them to convey what they are feeling and how they see the world. Art offers an avenue for individuals who struggle speaking their minds through words to directly express themselves, wordless.

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If the therapy is done in a school environment, art may provide a natural activity to interact with other children. For example, an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist might offer art therapy as a way of reaching therapeutic goals, but creating artwork with a child would not be the main modality of therapy. Some studies have suggested that art therapy may be a valuable component in treatment such as ABA therapy, where it can be offered as a reward for improved behavior, or as a way of developing certain socializing or communication skills. While an art therapist would be crucial to digging deep into the more closed-off, traumatized emotions, art therapy could be done at home as a way to allow children who are on the spectrum, or who are suffering with mental health issues, to relax into more soothing states.

Through the combined use of ABA and art therapy, the arts therapist may be experiencing expression, developing and strengthening various skills, and experiencing a multitude of sensory stimuli, all in a safe, welcoming environment. Art psychotherapy is the visual (or painting) dimension of this path, and is provided by credentialed, professionally trained art therapists, who by virtue of their training and their natural connections to this inner, multisensory world, are in a position to connect with our children who are on the spectrum.

artherapy 8 - IgleCreationsThe results of working through these two critical dynamics in the safe, trusted environment of an art room, with a trained Art Therapist, yield results that are INTERGRATED, AND STRENGTHENED in a childs capacity to endure, self-regulate, process, hold structure, and handle the powerful, chaotic emotions at work. It is this natural phenomenon which connects Art Therapists to children with Autism in and of itself, and thus confidence is built upon introduction, even on a nonconscious level initially.

While Group Arts sessions provide plenty of opportunities, Social and Verbal Skills should also be a area of emphasis in the meetings between the group sessions with regular therapy therapists and the ABA Therapy sessions. Precedent-based interventions also provide for similar positive reinforcement, either by selecting preferred art activities or by giving children with autism the ability to make personal choices throughout a session. Although more studies are underway, and various variables need to be introduced, research on arts interventions is consistently providing us with insights on how arts therapies can help children with autism make greater progress in a number of areas..

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