Art helps people communicate ideas and creating art with people allows a glimpse of their inner world. Art therapy can be very beneficial for people with Autism for creating art helps them relate to objects and practice communicating in a way that challenges them but is not overwhelming. For individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the key part is difficulty in relating to others socially. Of course, the difficulty increases with the severity of the diagnosis. The aspect of art therapy that is beneficial to individuals with ASD is that the objects that are seen in real life can become subjects for their drawing, but as more is created there can be reflection on what is made and how the person relates to their creation. It is easier to transition to a back-and-forth conversation and interaction that includes relating to the other if the person has made something that they can relate to first by drawing, sculpting or use of puppets.
This can be seen in many case studies and qualitative research studies that show clients building rapport and improving their ability to relate in school settings after having done some work with art therapists. What we know about Autism is that there is a range of functioning from high to low. What this means is that it can be challenging at the onset of the relationship between the caregiver and the child to build a relationship, because the child may not have the same capacity to mirror the parent and be responsive to their verbal and physical cues. This is because the child may not be able to keep objects in mind in the same way a child without Autism would, which creates the need for other things to be constant. For example, the repetitive actions or rigidity about changes in routine or environment. Art therapy strengthens object constancy because it allows for the person with Autism to identify what is important to them and for their internal world to become visible to another person, which improves their ability to communicate about objects and understand their meaning from a different perspective.
In art therapy for people with ASD, a few therapeutic approaches may be used but it is important to know that Behaviour Modification, which uses positive reinforcement and scaffolding techniques to change behaviour, as well as a Human-Centered approach which treats the client as an individual and focuses on their strengths are the main methods. In other words, an art therapist would slowly and clearly approach the client with each material and reward them, moving to the next step which would build on the progress made from the start. Clear directions with nonverbal cues and familiar materials such as markers are used most frequently at the start of the therapeutic relationship, and from there progress in sessions and outside of sessions is noted and work in other materials explored.
It is important to note that if there is a relationship established it may take some time to see the benefits because people with ASD strongly value routine and may take some time to become comfortable with the art therapist. There is strong evidence that creating art in a group setting will improve the social skills of a person with Autism because there is ample opportunity to practice social skills like sharing art materials or participating in a group art activity that does not involve direct confrontation with peers. Therefore, there is every reason to try art therapy with people who have ASD because it can help with their social interactions, sense of self, sensory challenges, and their ability to relate to others.
By: Claire T
Edited by: Reyhane N