The Impact of Art on Autism

By Suha Hussain

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a general term that defines a complex group of neurological conditions characterized by varying degrees of deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, nonverbal communication in social interactions, and in developing, maintaining, and understanding social relationships. Currently, there is no cure for Autism, but the most popular treatment in behavior modification therapy, whose purpose is to shape behaviors through a system of rewards and consequences. However, in recent years, those seeking alternative treatments have many other options, including art therapy.

Art therapy works to promote emotional and mental growth. Unlike art instruction, art therapy builds life skills such as independence and collaboration. Art is an outlet for self expression, imagination, and creativity. The visual arts are very impactful in the improvement of cognitions, visual and spatial discrepancies, fine motor skills, and coping. Many people with autism struggle with communication and are often visual thinkers. Art fits naturally with autism in that it can help those with autism express themselves through images while also being a soothing activity. Face to face interactions, such as conversations can be stressful for those with autism, which makes it difficult to understand what the individual is feeling or thinking. A solution to this would be to rather focus on the person’s art and discuss it which will allow the other person to understand and form a better bond.

As parent and child bonds formed in the early years, art therapy can be a great way for parents to bond with their child and understand his or her perceptions. Group projects with the child can lead to acceptance from the child and a sense of comfort. There are many great books that give advice on implementing art into the lives of children with autism such as Art as an Early Intervention Tool for Children with Autism (2009) by Nicole Martin, The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions (2012) by Debra Hosseini,and A Complete Guide to Teaching Art to Those with Autism: Utilizing the Elements and Principles of Design and Life Skills (2011) by Mishawn K. Reynolds.

Art therapy is a distinct treatment for autism and can be an alleviating activity, help reduce some of its symptoms, provide an outlet for self expression, and encourage social interaction in a fun environment.

Image by Suha Hussain

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