Art Therapy for Autism and Autistic Children
Young children who have autism (and many other things, like red socks, blond hair for instance) tend to lack the basic skills required in the areas of attention, play, communication, cognition, limitation, generalisation and motor coordination to understand and engage in the world. These skills are, of course, developed through the process of growing up.
The role of art therapy for autistic children is to support their emotional wellbeing as with any other client, building on their visual and unique strengths while at the same time, developing foundational academic, art, play and social skills. It goes without saying, the emotional wellbeing and happiness of the child is always the prime consideration.
Art Therapy for Autism: Art Centred Learning Approaches
Art therapists need to be conscious of the difficulties that children have with sensory processing. Individuals may over or under react to sensory stimuli. Therefore, it might be helpful for the art therapist to consult with the child physio or occupational therapist on a regular basis to assess the child’s specific sensory issues. A combined team approach to a child’s specific needs is often crucial as generalised approaches often fail to assess and address the complexities involved. Recent research indicates that we even differ on a cellular level. Both clients and providers should strive for more individualised learning and therapy plans, especially for autistic children and those with specialised needs.
To promote positive social interaction around the art therapy activity, it is important for the therapist to be aware of the child’s sensory system. This is vital to avert potential behavioural upsets. Preparation of art tasks and materials and assistance in mastering art skills are beneficial in preventing a potential negative experience. Seek to discover topics and areas of interest to the child to ensure the best chance of capturing and maintaining the child’s attention and interest.
Art Therapy for Autistic Children
The art therapist should develop achievable tasks with a strong guarantee of success as an ongoing therapeutic approach. Specialised skills such as matching identical objects, size and colour, dot to dot drawings, colour mixing, sorting, simple word labelling and word association all help to define and enhance activity for the autistic child. This can assist in development of verbal communication, vocabulary and hence, social interaction. This in turn supports the process of art ‘in’ psychotherapy.
Art Therapy can be useful for families with children who have autism by creating community through group work activity, exchanging stories, information and strategies. Interactive group activities with teenagers can encourage empathy and understanding of another’s preferences and feelings. Within the family, art activities can be used to promote common language and visual symbols that facilitate a unifying sense of achievement for the family in completing a task together.
There are so many more ideas for art therapy for autism and for art therapy for the autistic child we could explore. I hope these few points have piqued your interest and help you in your journey with children who have autism.
Robert GrayDirector and Senior Lecturer at CECAT
Registered Art Therapist and Psychologist
MA A. Th., AThR; B. Soc. Sc. (Psych.) (Hons.), MAPS.; BA. Theol. (Hons), MA Theol.
A highly regarded art therapy lecturer from Germany, Robert Gray has become a much sought-after art therapy lecturer and practising art therapist in Australia. His unique approach spanning psychodynamic, humanistic, spiritual and cognitive behavioural frameworks has distinguished him as a thought leader who is frequently invited to present at conferences in Australia and abroad.
Trained overseas and multilingual, German-born Robert shares the benefits of his international affiliations and access to cutting-edge research published in various languages with his students and readers. Robert is a professional member of the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association (ANZATA) and the Australian Psychological Society (APS).