Anxiety, over-stimulation, sensitivity — these are regular feelings for many people who have autism. Feelings many of them can’t express vocally. Living with autism is very stressful for a child, as well as their family. Art can be a very safe and effective way to express a wide variety of emotions, including frustration and anger.
Creating art is considered to be a useful pastime for the autistic child, helping them to develop self-reliance, pride in their work, and patience in the process of creating something.
There are six major ASD treatment goal areas that art therapists are best qualified to treat:
Imagination, sensory regulation and integration, self-expression (emotions), developmental growth (like fine motor skills), recreation and visual-spatial deficits.
Treating a child with art therapy involves more than just giving them a crayon and a paper. The therapist will meet the parents and other care providers as well as the child who is needing the therapy in order to set attainable goals for the sessions. In order to really reach children with autism, you must understand that they learn in different ways. So if something works for one child, it is not necessary that it will be a success for another child affected by autism.
Education is all about adapting materials, equipment, supplies, and lessons so that each student has the best chance of understanding and learning, considering their level of intelligence, their interest, as well as physical and mental ability. All individuals who work with autistic children need to understand how kids with autism learn, and what interests them in order to be successful in their teaching. Many autistic children are visual learners, therefore besides verbalizing the teaching materials, use pictures as well. This is another occasion, when art therapy comes in handy.
Making art is especially beneficial for ASD children, due to their intense sensory needs (especially visual and tactile self-stimulation) , often nonverbal nature; and their need for more visual, concrete, hands-on therapies. Art therapy does not require the client to be talented. Also, art therapy is not an alternative therapy as some might label it, as it is not a substitution for other therapies.
If you are seeking an art therapist with ASD experience, I would recommend first checking out online resources, your local phone book, and talking with autism professionals in your area that might know of an available therapist on their resource list.
(Art image at beginning of article is by Brad Herrmann)