The experience of expressing one’s self through art has widely been practiced as a form of therapy, as it’s no surprise that art brings a sense of calmness and serenity. This type of therapy is known as ‘art therapy,’ and it is a treatment widely used by therapists in meeting the challenges often faced by people with autism. Unfortunately, not all countries (including Malaysia) utilize this important form of interaction to treat sensory processing disorder (SPD).
For children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who have sensory issues, art therapy can be an effective way to help them. This is because people with autism are usually able to experience sensory input processes better including non-verbal activities. Most people are not aware of the wonders of teaching children with ASD using art therapies, such as encouraging them to join art activities.
What is art therapy?
The British Therapist Art Association defines art therapy as a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as the primary means of expression and communication. In this case, art is not used as a diagnostic tool but as a medium to tackle emotional issues that may be confusing and depressing. Autism children may have various difficulties, disabilities or diagnoses. These include emotional, behavioral, or mental health problems, physical learning or disability, life-threatening conditions, neurological conditions and physical illness. Mediums include media art, creative processes and producing artwork to explore the autistic children’s emotions and imaginations. It also provides security in emotional conflicts of autism and develops social skills of autism.
The benefits of art therapy
Children with ASD can benefit from art therapy methods especially to improve eye contact, the relationship between cause and effect with signals, emotional expressions, and contextual instructions. Some of the children’s capabilities with ASD are to present their abstract concepts and emotional memory through paintings.
Art therapy can help improve communication and develop social relationships. Children with ASD do have the talents and academics that can be developed over time. Why can art therapy be included as part of the stimulation art to complement other therapies? According to Donna J. Bett, there are at least three advantages of art therapy for autism spectrum disorders (ASD):
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Improve child’s communication skills
Art therapy can help stimulate the diffuse part of the brain and also help children with ASD in expressing non-verbal conversations. For example, children with ASD can produce a painting or describe something as a way for them to communicate using symbols or icons. This process can help develop communication directly and can help in their thinking process. This method can also train children with ASD to focus more and can directly engage in interacting with others. It is also a good way to reduce anxiety and help improve their emotional development.
Build and develop feelings and emotions using art
Art therapy is also good for children with ASD because they are sometimes challenged in maintaining emotional stability. Hence, by drawing or making a craft, it can train them to express feelings through drawing or drawing activities such as making collages and crafts. This therapy is also used to train their endurance and patience in solving an art task other than helping to improve their expression and feelings.
Training the nervous system
The nervous system in children with ASD is one of the important aspects. With that, multi-sensory use can help in building their feelings like listening and touching. For example, use of musical instruments or practices singing periodically and continuously each time different therapy. This method can build communication skills and sensory sensitivity during the therapeutic process. It also corresponds to the unique character and variance of each child with ASD being able to perform a positive interaction during therapy. Another example that relates to their sense of touch is by using ‘slime,’ clay, kinetic sand and many other forms of craft materials to help them explore and improve the nervous system.
This article was featured in Issue 80 – Conquering Challenges With ASD