In rereading Nicole Martin’s article, “Art Therapy and Autism: Overview and Recommendations”, I am reminded of how naturally the use of art seems to fit when working with people on the autism spectrum. Martin (2009) explains that the visual approach is beneficial for increasing abstract thinking and exercising imagination, while the use of various art materials can address the sensory issues that this population tends to exhibit, allowing for safe explorations in uncomfortable experiences. Unfortunately, as Martin also notes, more empirical research needs to be conducted in the field to legitimize the benefits of art therapy with this population.
I am currently working with two groups of kids on the spectrum (ages 7-16) in a respite program that integrates art with play. While the staff is made up of artists, the imaginative play we offer is extremely beneficial (and therapeutic) for the kids that attend. Rather than narrowly focusing on achieving certain goals or teaching specific skills, we use playful activities to encourage socialization, inclusion and self-expression.
Each week we have two art projects from which the kids can choose to participate. Many of these projects provide tactile stimulation (like finger painting or making “goop” out of food coloring, baking soda and cornstarch), which can be undesirable to some. However, we encourage participation and always adapt projects to fit the specific needs of each child.
The video above is an example of a group “jam session” we had with the older group of kids. In addition to art, we usually include music, performance, and storytelling into our schedule each week. This variety in activities works really well to incorporate the individual interests of each kid.
While this is the only program I’ve worked with that is geared specifically to those on the autism spectrum, I think that it is incredibly successful. If you have any questions about the program or would like to learn more, feel free to contact me.
Martin, N. (2009). Art Therapy and Autism: Overview and Recommendations. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 26(4), 187-190.