The Benefits of Art Therapy for Autism
Early intervention treatments are beneficial for almost any disorder and this is especially true when it comes to treating autism. The term “autism” references “autism spectrum disorders” or ASD. These disorders affect the brain development of a person starting in early childhood (“Facts about Autism”). Children with autism tend to struggle with communication and fine motor skills. This can vary if the child also has an intellectual or developmental disability. There is no cure for autism; however, there are numerous therapies that can help treat the symptoms associated with it.
Art therapy can be beneficial for a child with autism as it provides the sensory stimulation needed for a child with autism and it aids in the improvement of fine motor skills. While it is not of focus in art therapy, it can also help promote the growth of verbal communication skills and social interaction skills. Art therapy is the “therapeutic use of art making within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living and by people who seek personal development,” (“Integrative Therapies”). A session can take place in a variety of settings from hospitals to schools and private practices. Art therapy should promote the health and wellbeing of an individual. To do so the environment in which art therapy takes place also needs to promote this.
The environment in which a person feels this will vary which is why art therapy can take place in numerous settings. Art therapists use a variety of materials to provide their client with the sensory stimulation and fine motor skill building they need. People with autism can be hypo or hyper sensitive to stimuli. Hyper sensitive is when they are over-stimulated, hypo sensitive is when they are under-stimulated (“The Sensory World of Autism”). The hands on nature of art therapy tends to be beneficial for people with autism because it can focus on the difficulties of sensory input (Ullman 18). Materials used vary from client to client and are based on their needs and capabilities during that session.
The materials go from structured to unstructured; structured materials being simple to use and not too stimulating; whereas, an unstructured material is more complex and stimulating. Structured materials are materials like pencils and crayons and unstructured materials are materials like paint and clay. Fine motor skills can be a challenge for some children with autism, and through the use of tool adaptation these skills can be built upon in art therapy. Fine motor skills are used for tasks such as writing and other small movement activities. The size of the tool being used will determine the amount of fine motor skills needed for the task.
The larger the tool, the easier it is to use. Verbal communication is another area that tends to need work. Art therapy allows a person to express him/herself in a nonverbal manner. Children with autism struggle with communication and “the visible language spoken in art therapy offers individuals with autism regular opportunities for meaningful play, social interaction, and expression of the self.” (Goucher 304).
During an interview with Gail Fitz, she mentioned that drawing really only happens for part of a session and that the rest of the session is spent assessing and discussing the art work. This promotes the client to think about his/her feelings and try to express them verbally. With communication skills’ lacking this helps to build those skills (Fitz). Along with communication skills lacking, social skills often need to be worked on. Group therapy provides an opportunity for these skills to build because it promotes social interactions amongst the participating members (Fitz).
This occurs in a safe environment that allows for the skill building to occur. People with autism often have speech delays, social delays, and developmental delays. Those can all be treated through the use of art therapy. Art therapy may not be the right treatment for all children with autism; however, knowing that it is an option is beneficial when trying to find the appropriate treatment. Autism is becoming more prevalent in our society, and finding all of the treatment options will allow parents, caretakers, teachers, and those with autism to determine the best course of action to develop any skills needing work. “Facts about Autism.
” Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks, n.d. Web. 12 Nov.
2013. Fitz, Gail. Personal interview. 5 Feb. 2014.
Goucher, Cathy. “Art Therapy Connecting and Communicating.” Play-Based Interventions for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Ed. Loretta Gallo-Lopez and Lawrence C. Rubin.
New York: Routledge, n.d. 295-315. Print. “Integrative Therapies.
” Center for Health and Healing. Center for Health and Healing, 2002. Web. 17 Dec. 2013.
National Autistic Society, n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2013. autism.org.uk/15691>. Ullman, Pamella. “‘Art as Therapy’: Sensory Activities for the Child with Autism.” Full Spectrum. Blogger, 9 Jan. 2011. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
autism.org.uk/15691>. Ullman, Pamella. “‘Art as Therapy’: Sensory Activities for the Child with Autism.” Full Spectrum.
Blogger, 9 Jan. 2011. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.