Written by: Ashley Lawrence, CIT
For Embark Counseling Services
Individuals on the autism spectrum commonly struggle with social communication or experience a range of sensory difficulties, from either being overwhelmed by sensory feedback or through seeking more tactile sensation to help with emotional and mental grounding. Introducing such a child to art making activities can be beneficial in numerous ways. Through art mediums, children with autism spectrum disorder may find new outlets for communication, social-emotional growth, and beneficial sensory experiences.
Communication for the individual with autism can be complicated by multiple factors; some individuals may be non-verbal, others may be confused by abstract concepts and phrases. Art serves as an opportunity to explore the abstract using concrete methods. For example, social stories are tools often used to introduce individuals on the spectrum to new concepts or experiences, such as a shift in routine. This helps to alleviate anxiety and increase awareness about changes in routine or environment for these individuals. Similarly, art can be used to express ideas about goals for the future, exploring interests or hobbies, or illustrating a personal timeline. Within an art therapy setting, a therapist may ask an individual with autism to illustrate a difficult conflict at home or school. Through art, people and events can be dramatized through emotional reflection. While an individual on the spectrum may struggle to express these feelings or memories verbally, the context clues in art may help an art therapist ask appropriate questions, helping the individual process the event.
Art can also be utilized for social-emotional growth, similarly to its benefits for communication, by utilizing its beneficial sensory properties. Some individuals on the spectrum may experience difficulties in emotional regulation and experience dramatic reactions. Art, depending on the medium, can serve as a tool for regression or for emotional processing. Wet, fluid mediums, such as paint, clay, and markers, are harder to control rigidly and often utilize wider senses of movement. These can be used as a cathartic release of excess energy or to explore dramatic emotions. Dry mediums, such as graphite pencils or ink pens, require more rigid thinking and control over the art making, providing an opportunity to reflect on the subject of the art piece. This can be used to illustrate a complex concept. Individuals who may be overwhelmed by their feelings may seek out art making as a means of both appropriate emotional expression and appropriate sensory feedback. A short break with a desired art medium may help an individual regulate his or her feelings and be able to process the experience verbally with those involved in the interaction.
Lacour, K. (2018, September 20). The value of art therapy for those on the autism spectrum. Retrieved from https://the-art-of-autism.com/the-value-of-art-therapy-for-those-on-the-autism-spectrum