Art therapy is being increasingly used as a means to help autistic children communicate. Some researchers have described art as an ideal form of expression for children with autism, as studies have shown that individuals with ASD tend to think in pictures, so using art as a means to expression compliments the way that their minds work. This article will take a look at the different ways in which art therapy can help the emotional and social development of autistic children.

A study in 2017, conducted by art therapist Celine Schweizer, showed that “art therapy could have an effect on reducing behavioral problems of children with autism in specific problem areas, including social communicative behavior, flexibility, and self-image.” In light of these findings, art therapists have found in recent years that regular sessions can help children with ASD to regulate and manage their emotions and interact better with peers and family, it is hugely confidence building and it impacts their lives at school and at home.

Starting early
Art therapy can begin for children as young as 2 or 3 years old, and the earlier you start, the better. For children with ASD the world can be overwhelming and confusing, so providing them with the means to help them understand the world, problem solve and a way to express their emotions from an early age, provides them with an incredibly useful and valuable intervention to help get them off to a good start in life. This could help reduce the chances of any major social or emotional problem setting in.

Working with sensory aversions
For some children with ASD that have certain sensory aversions the idea of working with paint might make them feel quite uncomfortable. Making patterns on paper with paint is usually a great way to introduce children to painting, however if touching paint is an issue, then using long paint brushes or tennis balls and toy cars to make prints on paper can be an effective way to mitigate this.

Introduce them to a range of materials and styles
Using a range of different art materials and styles and getting children familiar with them, can help with the development of their fine and gross motor skills, it can also help them learn to cope better with more unfamiliar scenarios.

If anything, one of the most valuable outcomes of art therapy for children with ASD, is that it gives them a creative and versatile medium through which they can express their feelings and impressions of the world, And the more art styles and materials they can be introduced to the better as this gives them more scope to work with which will ultimately help aid their development.

Key outcomes
The benefits of art therapy for children with ASD are numerous, it can help children practice recognising and managing their emotions in a non-threatening and calm, controlled environment, as well as helping them to learn to interact and work with others by collaborating with one another.

Doing a round robin exercise where a piece of paper is passed around and each child adds something new to the drawing can help children learn how to empathise and relate with one another. In the long term it could even help children start to shape their identity and it could have a positive influence on their future choices.

By Jane Sandwood

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