Art As an Intervention for Autism

Art As an Intervention for Autism

Autism is a prevalent developmental disorder that is marked by challenges with socialization and language skills. Children with autism typically have difficulty organizing thoughts and behaviors that fit in with societal norms. Some interventions have been proven to help, one of which is art. It’s a constant path for progress and we’ll explain why below:

Proven Benefits of Art for ASD

The American Art Therapy Association spearheaded a case study to explore the value of art interventions in treating children on the spectrum. The focus of the study was a 6-year-old boy (herein called the participant). The participant was diagnosed with autism without mental retardation and was evaluated based on the key areas of growth, development, and capacity to understand and relate to the world around him.

The History of Art in Autistic Research

Autism is a relatively new developmental disorder and one that was first examined in detail by well-known British child psychiatrist Dr. Lorna Wing. Prior to her detailed findings on the subject, children with autism were considered to be either schizophrenic or psychotic. Thanks to her works, this perception has widely changed.

John Bowlby also revolutionized our understanding of human development as it relates to the importance of bonding and attachment in child-parent relationships. Using these two studies as a foundation, we’re now able to get much better insight into what a child’s drawings mean at different stages of development.

How Art Is Used as a Measure for Development and Growth

Children’s art is characterized as a developmental process that is articulated in schematic stages. This basically means that sketched shapes and objects depict the child’s thought processes and their correlation to reality.

Deciphering Key Learning Concepts During Art for Autism

In the study of the participant, he initially showed no interest in drawing or scribbling. His coach started off with familiar objects like soft toys he used at home. Later, as the participant grew more comfortable with his coach, he worked with play dough and was instructed to create a circle. This seemingly simple task proved tedious at first but after months of repetition and practice, his motor skills vastly improved and he was able to repeat the assignment during art interventions and independently at home.

Dramatic Observations Following Art Interventions

The coach who worked on the study observed that at the start of the art program, little eye contact was made and the participant spoke in a high-pitched tone. However, after months of art interventions, he made strides in the following ways:

  • Improved Eye Contact
  • Normal Speaking Tone
  • Better Mannerisms at Home and School
  • A Growing Understanding of Social Norms

Goal Setting – Art Gives a Chance to Alter Behavior

We now know that artistic drawings reflect what’s going on inside the mind. In the case of the participant with autism, the coach could tell that he was unable to follow simple directives from the get-go. Through repetition, however, the art coach saw the transition from being unable to draw a circle to the boy being able to draw a fully fragmented body. By the mid-stage of the art intervention, he was able to draw a connected body and even told the tutor, “These are people”. Later, he was able to sketch more elaborate pictures of everyday life, such as trips to McDonald’s with his mother. These drawings reflected serious neurological development at the end of the day.

What Parents Can Do

Just as how we repeat words to babies and toddlers to boost their understanding of concepts and ideas, art, in the same way, is encouraged in the early years for children with autism. It ultimately helps them develop a greater understanding of their world. We provide the tools to stimulate growth and motivate creativity. To learn more about our programs, call (973) 271-2496.

Source: Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association

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