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Art Therapy for Autistic Children, pixabay
  • The estimates are- 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder by age 8 each year as per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Some of the best practices found out (which Art Therapists can work upon) after the survey was: use the same routine to begin each session, explain instructions in a consistent manner, spark curiosity to teach new skills and be aware of transitions between activities

Florida (US), July 28, 2017: A Researcher from Florida State University is working with art therapists in order to find better ways to treat children having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism spectrum disorder is the name for a group of the developmental disorder and includes a wide range, a spectrum of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability.

People with ASD often have these characteristics:

  • Ongoing social problems like difficulty in communicating and interacting with others
  • Repetitive behaviors and limited interests or activities
  • Symptoms that typically are recognized in the first two years of life
  • Symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life

Some people are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled. Treatments and services can improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function. One such mode of treatment is Art Therapy, it promotes mental and emotional growth through art making. It is conducted with the aim of building life skills, addressing deficits and problem behaviors, and promoting healthy self-expression. Clients are encouraged to explore and express themselves using art materials

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Theresa Van Lith, assistant professor of art therapy in FSU’s Department of Art Education, led a study that surveyed art therapists working with children with ASD to develop a clearer understanding of the techniques used and approaches. Van Lith said, “I had noticed that is there is a high number of art therapists working with people who have autism, but I wanted to understand what their words of wisdom were in terms of how they go about facilitating art therapy sessions.” She added, “We want to make it a transparent process for the client or the parents of a client, so they know what to expect.”

The estimates are- 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder by age 8 each year as per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. As that population grows, more parents and educators are reaching out to art therapists to address social development and sensory issues that generally accompany ASD.

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The research team compiled the art therapists’ expert opinions and analyzed them. It was on topics like what worked with ASD clients, their objectives during a session, their most preferred theoretical approach and the considerations they had to make when working with children with ASD.

She realized that there wasn’t a consensus with the theoretical approaches they used. “They had to use a number of theoretical approaches together, and we wanted to understand what that would be like in practice,” Van Lith said.

Though the survey results varied, the researchers were able to develop a set of guidelines for delivering art therapy to children who have ASD. The proposed guidelines will serve as a basis for successful practice for new art therapy professionals and also for further studies. Van Lith intended, “We used these practice wisdom from art therapists around the field to understand the most effective and beneficial way to use art therapy with child with ASD.”


An autistic child doing painting. Pixabay

Some of the best practices found out after the survey was: use the same routine to begin each session, explain instructions in a consistent manner, spark curiosity to teach new skills and be aware of transitions between activities.

The researchers also noted the aspects of practice that were found, not to be useful such as being overly directive or too loose with direction, using over stimulating art materials and forcing or being restrictive with communication styles. That’s important because sometimes there is the assumption of why can’t anyone do these techniques? People wonder why art therapy can’t be conducted in a much less formal situation. However, they don’t realize there are nuances in the way we (art therapists) deliver the art therapy directive — a lot of that is about knowing the client and the way a client responds to communication.

Based on these guidelines and consensus, Van Lith is rolling out a larger study to demonstrate the efficacy of that working model. “The idea is that, over time, we can build up the evidence that art therapy is effective for these children, and we can demonstrate the how and why,” said Van Lith said.

The ultimate goal will be- to educate art therapists about best practices as well as inform clients, parents, and teachers about possible benefits of art therapy for children with such medical condition.

“When there will be more transparency, the clients will be able to appreciate or understand some of the changes that might be going on for them as they receive art therapy,” Van Lith said. They don’t want it to be a mysterious process for them.

Van Lith co-authored the study with Jessica Stallings, associate professor at Emporia State University, and FSU alumna Chelsea Harris, who practices at the Emory Autism Center. This study was published this month in the journal Arts in Psychotherapy.

– prepared by Kritika Dua of NewsGram. Twitter @DKritika08


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