Art Therapy in Autism: 4 Activities You Can Do at Home

Art Therapy in Autism

How is art therapy used with autism?

Parents of children on the spectrum often seek innovative alternatives to enhance their children’s quality of life, whether through scientifically approved methods such as ABA therapy, animal therapy, or more expressive approaches that foster creativity and communication, such as art therapy in autism.

So, how is art therapy used with autism? As a tool that provides a means of non-verbal expression, it allows individuals with autism, who often struggle with communication skills, to explore emotions, thoughts, and experiences through art, whether it be painting, drawing, sculpting, or collage.

Art therapy offers significant benefits beyond fostering creativity. Let’s explore some of them in this blog by ABA Centers of Virginia and how parents in Arlington and Washington D.C. can implement playful activities to promote the development of their children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Understanding Autism

Autism is a neurological condition that affects how individuals perceive the world, communicate, and interact with others. Common traits include repetitive behaviors, difficulty in communication, and sensory sensitivities. The world of autism can be characterized by a diverse range of experiences and strengths, as each person with autism is unique.

When a child is diagnosed with autism, it marks the beginning of a new journey for their family. It can be a journey filled with uncertainty and challenges but also hope and potential. One of the first things parents do is search for effective ways to promote developmental growth, especially in areas that are often challenging for children with autism. It can be heartbreaking to see a child fall behind their peers in language skills or, in some cases, not be able to communicate at all.

However, in our modern world, families navigating this journey are not left without aid. Today, a multitude of support systems and therapeutic options are within reach. These resources offer personalized assistance, specifically designed to play to the child’s strengths while addressing their unique challenges.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The American Art Therapy Association describes it as a discipline that integrates mental health care and human services. It fosters personal enrichment through active artistic creation, the use of psychological techniques, and the understanding of human experiences within a therapeutic relationship.

Therapists use art therapy to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and improve communication skills. Individuals can access art therapy individually, in couples, families, and groups, and it is suitable for all ages.

The Science Behind Art Therapy

Art therapy involves the activation of different parts of the brain, such as the left and right hemispheres, cerebral cortex, and limbic system. Each of these areas has specific roles in emotional states, memory formation, and processing of motor and visual information. This sensory and affective activation plays a crucial role in therapeutic change, according to research by art therapists and Professor Vija Bergs Lusebrink.

The article suggests engaging these brain areas through creative activities can help process emotions, enhance memory recall, improve motor skills, and promote overall mental well-being.

Moreover, a study by the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association supports the idea that art therapy can play a significant role in rebalancing brain functions affected by trauma and attachment disruption. By engaging in art therapy, individuals can influence their neurobiological responses, which can lead to improved mental health outcomes.

Benefits of Art Therapy in Autism

Art therapy extends beyond creative activities, connecting with neuroscience and serving as an alternative treatment for mental conditions. Moreover, the American Journal of Occupational Therapy highlights the following benefits of art therapy in autism:

Non-verbal expression – Art provides a medium through which individuals with autism can express themselves without relying solely on verbal communication. 

Sensory processing and integration – Engaging in art activities can help individuals with ASD regulate their sensory experiences by providing structured, tactile stimulation. Art can aid in improving sensory processing and integration skills, allowing them to understand better and respond to sensory stimuli in their environment.

Emotional regulation and development – Art therapy offers a safe and supportive space to explore and express their emotions. Through artistic expression, they can learn to identify and manage their feelings, leading to improved emotional regulation and development.

Social skills enhancement through group activities –  Participating in art therapy sessions in a group setting allows individuals to practice social skills such as turn-taking, sharing, and collaboration. Engaging in creative activities together fosters a sense of friendship and can help improve social interaction skills.

Improving motor skills and coordination – Artistic activities often involve fine motor skills such as drawing, painting, and sculpting, which can help to improve their motor skills and coordination. 

Cognitive development – Through the process of creating art, individuals with autism can enhance their cognitive skills creatively and enjoyably while stimulating abilities such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making.

Stress reduction and relaxation – Art therapy offers a calming and therapeutic outlet for individuals to release stress and tension, helping to reduce anxiety and promote overall emotional well-being.

Enhanced communication skills – Art therapy can improve both verbal and non-verbal communication skills in individuals with autism. Engaging in artistic activities encourages them to express themselves in different ways, leading to increased communication abilities and a broader range of expressive tools.

Sense of accomplishment and purpose – Completing art projects and seeing tangible results can provide individuals with autism a sense of accomplishment and purpose. This feeling of achievement can foster motivation and a positive outlook, encouraging continued participation in therapy and other activities.

Strengthening parent-child bonds – Participating in creative activities together fosters opportunities for shared experiences, communication, and connection. It provides parents with a unique avenue to engage with their child in a supportive and enjoyable environment, deepening their relationship and understanding of each other.

Art Therapy Activities to Do at Home

For parents and caregivers looking to bond and have fun with their kids while boosting their development, consider diving into some play activities right at home. It’s not just about the final artwork; it’s about the benefits to your child’s growing mind and body.

1. Craft a Sensory Art Haven: Gather varied materials like soft cloth squares, textured papers, or even something as playful as bubble wrap and stick them on a wall or board. As your child explores through touch and creates with these, they may find tranquility—especially helpful if their senses often overstimulate them.

2. Nature Texture and Drawing: Take a walk and gather small items like leaves, pebbles, or pieces of tree bark. Once you’re back home, show your child how to place these objects under a sheet of paper and apply crayon strokes to create patterns. This activity helps develop fine motor skills and also fosters a connection to nature.

3. Daily Routines as Art – Work together to make a picture chart that shows what happens throughout the day. Cut out pictures from magazines or draw them yourselves.

4. Sensory Bottles: Fill some bottles with water, add glitter or shiny objects, and seal them tightly for homemade lava lamps that can function as self-regulation tools

ABA Centers of Virginia and Therapies for Autism

Art therapy in autism is a valuable therapeutic approach offering a holistic and creative outlet for self-expression, emotional regulation, and social interaction. By incorporating art therapy activities into daily routines, parents can experience meaningful benefits and enhance the overall well-being of their children with ASD.

For individuals seeking professional support and guidance in implementing art therapy for autism, ABA Centers of Virginia offer comprehensive ABA services tailored to the unique needs of individuals on the spectrum. ABA therapy focuses on increasing desired behaviors and reducing challenging behaviors through evidence-based interventions, including art therapy techniques.

Your child could benefit from more alternative and proven approaches; call us at (855) 957-1892 or schedule a free appointment with our ABA Care specialists.

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