Art is an exciting and natural way for all children to explore and learn to express themselves. Through various avenues, such as painting, drawing, and building, children learn to read and explore emotions, develop coping skills, and experience social interactions. While children with autism process the world differently, art allows them to learn how to understand and develop skills they may struggle with. Through a combination of ABA therapy and art therapy, your child can experience multiple sensory stimuli in a safe environment.
What is Art Therapy?
According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy engages the mind, body, and spirit through the use of integrative methods in ways that are distinct from verbal articulation alone. Art therapy also supports your child’s personal and relational ABA therapy treatment goals by improving:
- Cognitive skills
- Sensorimotor functions
- Self-esteem and self-awareness
- Emotional resilience
- Social skills
- The ability to reduce and resolve conflicts and distress
- Executive functioning skills – a set of mental skills, including working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control.
Seeking Treatment Through Art Therapy
Implementing art therapy offers an array of possibilities for children with autism. Art provides a way to help them develop their imagination and understanding of the world around them. Expression through art offers an alternative way to build or enhance their communication skills. It’s also useful in meeting various goals, including:
- Enhance visual skills
- Define fine motor skills
- Encourage social skills
- Improve behavioral issues through integrating ABA therapy
- Develop sensory integration
- Decrease off-task behaviors
- Increase learning opportunities
Art Therapy Enhances Communication Skills
Children with autism struggle with the ability to communicate effectively, read cues, and express their basic wants and needs. Using art therapy, in combination with ABA therapy, provides an alternative way for your child to build or enhance their communication skills. Through art, they can form meaningful bonds with their therapist and caregivers while learning to explore a new, less intimidating expression method.
Art therapy provides a way to help your child develop their understanding of the world around them. They benefit by exploring and expanding their imagination and expression. Your child’s therapists will help them learn to find other ways to use receptive and expressive communication through:
- Sensory exploration
Art therapists are master-level clinicians who complete education and training under strict supervision to serve their needs best. While they work across many areas, your child will receive focus on their strengths and challenges set by their ABA therapy team. Children with autism typically have their sessions focused on their medical and mental health issues, emotional, communicative, and behavioral growth.
While there is an array of settings for art therapists to work with your child and family, you will typically find art therapy services in:
- ABA therapy clinics
- Private practice
- Psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities
- Community clinics
- Crisis centers
Strengthening Positive Behaviors and Executive Functioning
Art therapy offers children with autism a way to replace and strengthen their behaviors. Art therapy has been in use as a successful form of early childhood intervention for children with autism for years. Studies show children with autism exhibit fewer behavioral challenges after engaging in artistic activities. It offers an opportunity to increase cognitive function through expression, by enhancing their imagination, and encourages abstract thinking. Enhancement of executive functioning skills includes strengthening their working memory and flexible thinking through concentration and attention to detail during art sessions. Art activities also provide an incredible chance to facilitate cognitive development while helping to build and strengthen their visual-spatial and fine motor skills.
Combining Art Therapy and ABA Therapy
Through the use of ABA therapy, children learn to replace undesirable behaviors with new skills and behaviors. ABA therapy relies on modeling, repetition, and the use of positive reinforcements. For children with autism, combining ABA with art therapy offers an antecedent-based intervention or ABI. Similar to ABA therapy practices, ABI offers evidence-based practices that introduce stimulus changes prior to undesirable situations occurring. This method allows the use of similar positive reinforcements, such as selecting their favorite art activities or allowing them to make various individual choices during therapy.
The combination of ABA therapy with art therapy dramatically enhances the overall strengths of your child. They become more independent and begin to develop appropriate social skills. Children with ASD also tend to be visual and concrete learners, allowing the introduction of art therapy to help them better communicate emotions, feelings, needs, and wants through art-based activities that match their learning styles. Art therapy reduces stress and anxiety levels by focusing on your child’s creativity rather than verbal communication difficulties. When they feel more comfortable expressing themselves through art, they feel a level of acceptance from their therapists, caregivers, and peers.
Assessing Your Child Through Art
Art therapy and ABA therapy pair well together for assessment purposes. Art offers a wide variety of assessment opportunities in a safe, relaxing environment. Observing your child’s progress includes noting improvements in fine motor skills while demonstrating the ability to focus and improve sensory processing. Cognitive development and behavior are also areas of assessment easily seen through art therapy. It offers an environment that is not over-stimulating while still providing structure, modeling, and opportunities for language and communication strengthening.
Art Therapy: Group Session Benefits
Group sessions continue to show valuable benefits for children with autism. By adding a social component to art sessions, they experience and learn to thrive in social settings requiring interaction. Children learn to recognize and read social cues, develop self-esteem, and express their needs. Additional improvements include enhancing:
- Eye contact
- Verbal skills
- Social skills
- On-task behaviors
Art therapy offers tremendous benefits to help your child thrive across all areas. At Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we believe in providing an all-encompassing approach to meet the various needs of your family. From ABA therapy to art and speech, we are here to provide you with the tools you need. We invite you to explore our resources, and if you are in the Michigan area, allow us to help your family navigate this journey.