Description of the population
There are major behavioral challenges with most typically developing adolescents. However, when dealing with an adolescent with Autism even more behaviors can surface as their bodies, emotions and thoughts are changing and developing. When adolescents with Autism go through puberty, they have the same hormonal activity taking place as the neurotypical teens do. They can become more non-communicative, moody and unpredictable as these biological changes are occurring.
Adolescence is a time for social maturity to take form, however teens with Autism very often lack contact with friends outside of school, saying they are never called or invited to social activities, according to a recent study. Data from more than 11,000 middle and high school-age students in special education and found that teens with autism who struggle with conversational and social skills are significantly less likely than their peers to spend time with friends or report having a social life (Shattuck PT, Orsmond GI, Wagner M, Cooper BP, 2011).
How Art Therapy can serve the adolescent population
An Art Therapy program should strive to provide adolescents with a therapeutic yet social experience that encourages creative expression. It needs to incorporate a full variety of creative projects that allows participants to develop their fine motor, communication, and most importantly, social skills. The art making process is healing and helps adolescents develop and learn through non-threatening and creative activities.
A therapeutic program should offer a safe and enjoyable sensory experience that helps create a calm and regulated state for the adolescent; this in turn often helps them open up and express their feelings. Art therapists who work with this population need to be trained in counseling techniques as well as the use of visual expression. This with the verbal counseling is an excellent combination in helping the adolescent with communication issues.
Methods, materials, and program ideas for the adolescents
Using a variety of materials and approaches, the goal of the Art Therapist is to engage, inspire, and help adolescents develop their social skills with peers, communicate more effectively and ultimately experience the joy of creative expression.
1) Phototherapy: The use of photos such as personal snapshots, family albums, and pictures taken by self or others as a means to access personal awareness and enhance communication during art therapy sessions. Scrapbook or journaling projects can be developed with the use of photos and other creative materials.
2) Fabric and Textile Arts: This artisan-style approach utilizes a variety of projects that may become more long-term; taking several weeks to complete. Such projects may include: quilting, pillow making, weaving, needle crafts, and other fabric based art. Some instructional sessions may be required for participants to learn sewing or other crafting techniques. Modifications and adaptations can be incorporated for those who need assistance.
3) Pop-culture/ theme based: Using current trends in music, television, fashion, and other multi-media, adolescents will be able to express their individuality and engage in creative activities appropriate for their generation. A variety of creative projects such as designing CD covers, creating style collages, and word art are examples of this approach.
4) Inspiration Art/Art History: With this approach, historical pieces of art are presented in order to inspire participants in a particular style of art or to learn about famous artists. Photographs, slides, or videos may be used as a starting point to give the adolescents a visual and concrete reference point. There may be some instructional sessions included to help the participants achieve the look they want.
Shattuck PT, Orsmond GI, Wagner M, Cooper BP (2011) Participation in Social Activities among Adolescents with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27176. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027176
Behaviors, Creative Interventions, For Professionals, General Information, Learning, Parent's Corner, Sensory Intergration by admin
Children with Autism have many challenges with socialization and communication. They find it extremely difficult to relate to others; especially to their peers. Instead of playing with toys in imaginative ways (such as pretending a doll is really “my baby”) they may use toys for self-stimulation, perseverate on objects, and become entirely self-absorbed.
For typical children, play allows learning and social skills to build naturally. We usually do not have to “teach” children to play. However, a child on the spectrum may need some guidance. Play can be a great tool for helping children to go beyond autism’s self-absorption into a real and shared interaction. When directed properly, creative play can also help children explore their feelings and their environment. Eventually this can lead to stronger relationships with parents, siblings and peers.
Theories such as DIR/Floortime, a model created by Dr. Stanley Greenspan emphasize the use of play. The idea is to follow the child’s natural emotions and interests which he says is essential for learning and developing various parts of the mind and brain. In typical play therapy, clinicians are usually interested in letting the child take the lead. The therapist reflects back to the child their observations of what is happening in the session and mirrors back. Play Therapy with the Autistic child is a bit more challenging. We need to establish their functioning level and adapt to it. As stated above, they may not have the ability to play imaginative or symbolically. We need to be very animated and show them how to do this.
We may need to will get down on the floor with the child and truly engage him through the modality of play. For example, we might set out a number of toys that the child finds interesting, and allow them to decide what, if anything, interests her. If they pick up a toy car and run it back and forth without purpose, the therapist might pick up another car and place it in front of the child’s, blocking its path and saying “beep beep”. If the child responds — verbally or non-verbally
– then a relationship has begun. If there is little reaction, the therapist might look for sensory or high-interest, options to engage the child. Bubble blowing is often successful, as are toys that are “cause and effect”- they camove, squeak, vibrate, and otherwise do something.
As the therapy builds, the therapist can build reciprocal skills, such as sharing, taking turns, and imaginative skills (pretending to feed a toy animal, cook pretend skills) and even abstract thinking skills (putting together puzzles, solving problems). Eventually, as the child becomes better able to relate to others, participating in a small group of peers would help further by engaging in more social play.
VIDEO LINK Showing child and therapist in a playful and creative interplay: Autism Play Project (Floortime) _Drawing_Creative Interventions, For Professionals, General Information, Sensory Intergration by admin
Many years ago, while attending an Art Therapy conference I went to an Open Studio where I participated in a technique called “Touch Drawing”. The artist, Deborah Koff-Chapin who created this unique approach to artmaking still offers workshops and literature out in California. Her work is beautiful and etheral.
You can see a video demo on her website http://touchdrawing.com/2TouchDrawing/TDdemo.html
I recently decided to re-explore this technique and began dabbling with touch drawing again. I thought that the tactile qualities of tough drawing might be an interesting material to try with the children and families that I work with that have mild ASD. In Open Studio, we had some children who had mild tactile defensiveness which proved to be an non-issue after offering the Touch Drawing!
I think this creative modality serves the child very well, as it has the ability to be very “hands-on” (literally) and yet is not as messy as traditional finger painting. In addition, there are ways to create texture and layers that allow the artist to experiment and discover new ways of expression. All ages can do this!
Here is the technique, as Deborah Koff Chapin describes:
• Oil paint or printing ink in any colors you like. We recommend water mixable student grade oil paints.
• Printmaking roller(brayer) is used to roll the paint smooth.
• A smooth, nonabsorbent surfacelike glass, plastic or dry erase board is used for a drawing surface.
•Plenty of paper; very lightweight like wrapping tissue is good but anything will work.
Doing Touch Drawing Yourself
• Put a small amount of paint on the drawing board. It is best to start with one color.
• Roll the paint smoothand place a sheet of paper on top of the paint.
• Touch the paper with your fingernails, fingertips and palms. Try using both hands some of the time.
• Become aware of body sensations and trace them on the paper. They might be abstract patterns or images.
• Lay the drawings on top of one another as they are done.
• Roll the board smooth between drawings. Only add paint after a few drawings.
• Draw whatever you feel in the moment. They do not have to be ‘pretty pictures’.
• The longer you stay with it, the deeper you will go.
• When you are finished drawing, roll the paint smooth and leave it to dry.
I recommend doing some touch drawing
Pamela Ullmann, MS, ATR-BC, LCATCreative Interventions, Parent's Corner, Sensory Intergration by admin
Some believe that color is a very powerful force in our lives and can have subtle effects on our bodies and minds. Interior designers and artists have used color to dramatically affect moods and feelings with their work. Institutions such as hospitals often use soft blues to decorate the rooms; creating a calming environment. However, your feelings about color can also be very personal and can be rooted in your own experience or culture. But there are certian characteristics and qualities of colors that can be useful when working with sensory sensitive children.
Color therapy or “chromotherapy” was practiced by ancient cultures including Egyptian and Chinese. They used color to heal and today in holistic or alternative settings, practitioners include it as well. Here are some interesting characteristics:
RED- Used to stimulate the body and min and to increase circulation (and appetite)
YELLOW- Used to stimulate the nervous system and help focus
ORANGE- Used to heal the lungs and promote energy
BLUE- Used to calm and sooth and treat pain
There are of course more nuances and uses of color that can be researched and debated, but how can some of this information be used in working with children? As an art therapist, I am always aware of visual stimulation when presenting art materials. When I notice a child is very hyper, I will avoid offering stimulating colors such as reds or oranges and try to stick with the blue tones. Does this help? I beleive it does, but to what degreee I am not sure. I will never deny a child colors that they are asking for, but may steer the choices when possible.
Color can also be used to evoke emotions or make connections to feelings, memories and ideas. I have often used the book by Dr. Suess called “My Many Colored Days” which can help children identify their emotions through color referencing. The story is wonderfully illustrated with colorful images that connect a feeling……this of course is rather subjective and I ask the children if the color in the book makes them feel different. Either way, the story helps them identify their own emotions which is often hard for children with developmental issues. After reading the story there are so many art making projects that can be presented as a follow up. I have had children create large murals, individual colorized portaits, and more……
Overall, color can be a great tool when working with sensory sensitive children. By experiementing and becoming aware of subtle reactions, we can taylor the activities and hopefully help them regulate. In addition, there are other things that compliment the use of color such as music and aromatherapy. More about those later…..
Creative Interventions, General Information, Learning, Parent's Corner, Sensory Intergration by admin
Many children with autism tend to be visual learners and traditional methods of instruction can often be quite challenging. For example, while the average child learns language through social interactions by mimicking the words they hear in everyday conversations, children with autism spectrum disorder may not absorb speech and languageskills as readily. Often, children with autism do not imitate others in the same way that average children do, making it necessary to take a more direct approach. Signed speech, which uses sign language in conjunction with spoken language to visually reinforce new words and concepts, is a hands-on approach to teaching speech and language skills.
Hands on projects use that same principle of multisensory learning, combining visual, tactile, and verbal stimuli to teach new skills and concepts, appealing to the learning characteristics of many autistic children. Hands on projects can be integrated into nearly any learning experience. For example, you can tell a story while working together to illustrate it with simple drawings that can aid in comprehension, while keeping children engaged in social interaction. Paper cutouts, used to act out a story as it is read can be great literacy and comprehension reinforcement, and having the child participant in creating them offers another hands-on activity.
-Drawing and coloring flashcards can help in the development of fine motor skills while teaching letter and number recognition, or decorating them with fabrics and objects of varying textures can add tactile elements to the lesson.
-Mixing instant puddings or homemade play dough can help children learn to follow simple instructions with the help of tactile stimulation to maintain attention.
-Older children can benefit from cooking or baking projects, learning math skills through measuring ingredients and gaining competency in following directions. Also, getting to eat the finished product is a tangible reward for a job well done.
-Art projects that correspond with lesson plans for the day can be very helpful in reinforcing academic subjects, such as making clay models of animals or objects learned about earlier in the day.
-Model building, painting, or drawing projects can bring history or social studies lessons firmly into focus for autistic children, and lessons on plant biology can be brought home with a plant growing project.
Short attention spans are common in children with autism, another issue that is often eased with the use of hands on projects for autistic students. Active learning can be a great help in keeping children focused, alert, and engaged, making it easier to stay on task. If attention span becomes an issue when hands on projects are underway, divide each project into small steps with breaks given after each one. Lengthening those intervals between breaks gradually can help the child slowly build a more appropriate attention span.
Hands on projects are a great way to teach children on the spectrum. In fact, all children can benefit from the combination of activity and education that these modalities offer. In an integrated learning environment, hands on projects can help children with autism interact and cooperate with other children, promoting understanding and fostering those vital social and communication skills. And of course hands on projects are much more fun for all involved.Creative Interventions, Parent's Corner, Sensory Intergration by admin Behaviors, Creative Interventions, For Professionals, General Information, Learning, Parent's Corner, Sensory Intergration by admin
Very often my goals as an art therapist will focus on the creative expression in developing the child’s imagination, communication and socialization skills. These are all areas that the child with Autism Spectrum Disorder is working on in school, home and other therapies as well. However, sometimes art can simple be used in a more non-directed way and purely allow the child to experience the sensory elements of the materials.
In the field of Art Therapy, using the model of “Art as Therapy” is a process that allows individuals to experience the art making with little direction. This then allows them to gain insight and open up to their feelings in their own time. However, with the population of Autism, I see the “Art as Therapy” model more about the intrinsic sensory processes and believe that it can benefit the child that needs to “just have fun” with the creative activities. Having fun and engaging in this experience can then ultimately regulate the senses, emotions and behaviors.
Let’s explore some techniques and materials that both professionals and parents can use to help their children have this experience. These are some activities that can be adapted for any functioning level by either limiting the amount of materials presented and/or limiting the time allotted
Activity #1: Cornstarch Goo
This activity can be a little messy, but often will be a fun way to build a tolerance to wet materials. It is more a “play” activity rather than an art making one, because there is no product at the end. Sometimes the simplest of ingredients can create a great tactile experience- cornstarch and water is a great example of that. Combining these two ingredients makes a fun “goo” that acts like a solid and a liquid at the same time. It’s a great learning activity that will fascinate the kids about how things work.
Making the goo: In a medium size bowl, start with 1 cup of cornstarch and add the water one tablespoon at a time. Stir carefully and add a bit more water or cornstarch as needed to get the right consistency. You’ll know the right consistency when you see it — you won’t quite be able to stir it, but it will still look liquid.
The mixture will act like a solid when you squeeze it or press on it, but when you let it relax; it turns into liquid-like goo. Have the child scrape some up out of the bowl and squeeze it in their hand and watch the material form shapes. Then tell them to relax their hand and watch the shape melt between their fingers and drip back into the bowl. Make a game out of it by seeing how long the shape can stay solid before drippingback to liquid.
Activity #2: Colored Rice Mosaics
This is a project that can be both tactile as well as creative. The senses are engaged, while the goal will be to produce a work of colorful art. The preparation should be done before presenting to the child.
Ingredients: 1 cup dry white rice, 1 teaspoon rubbing alcohol or white vinegar, 3 to 4 drops food coloring, medium size bowl and spoon, and waxed paper or aluminum foil.
Making the Colored Rice: Measure the dry rice into a bowl. Add the rubbing alcohol or vinegar, and stir well to coat. Drop on the food coloring, stirring between each drop. Add food coloring, and keep mixing until the rice is your desired color. Place a sheet of waxed paper or foil on a flat surface. Pour the colored rice onto the waxed paper or aluminum foil. Allow the colored rice to dry completely. This usually takes about 30-60 minutes. Repeat steps to make additional colors of rice.
Making Art with the Colored Rice: To make a mosaic, have the child draw a simple a design onto a piece of cardstock or thin cardboard. Add glue to the design, one area at a time, and then sprinkle on the colored rice. Children with ASD might become over stimulated if given too much rice at once, so it is best to put the rice in small paper cups (bathroom size works well). Also, when applying the glue, give children a small amount with a paintbrush- this helps with the “over squeeze” we often see children engaging in when given the glue container. This activity can be a nice way to teach shapes and colors for younger children by filling simple outlines. For older children, more intricate designs can be incorporated.
Activity #3: Musical Shakers
By making a musical shaker, children can learn how the tactile elements create sound; allowing them to experiment and feel the items as they are used in fun ways.
Here are some things you can collect to make a variety of shakers: coffee cans, plastic yogurt containers, spice bottles, paper towel rolls. Inside materials: dried peas, popcorn, pennies, dried macaroni, dried beans, and other materials that child may be drawn to. (* this activity should be highly supervised with children who are very oral)
Steps for making shakers: Wash and dry all the empty containers. Have child pick out and choose one to decorate. They can use a variety of art materials to cover the container depending on their age and functioning level. Construction paper is usually a nice way to cover any lettering or labels that have not come off. Offer markers, crayons or glitter glue. Allow the container to dry before filling it.
Experiment with the dried materials by having child reach into the bowl and feel around. Ask child what they think adding that to a shaker would sound like? Let them do this with a few different textures.
When ready, fill each container between one half and two thirds full with the dried beans, macaroni, peas, popcorn seeds or rice. You can mix a couple of the dried ingredients together with some pennies to create different sounds. Attach the lids of the containers, making sure they are tightly sealed. Let them shake, shake, shake, and then you can turn on their favorite songs and let them play to the music.Creative Interventions, Parent's Corner, Sensory Intergration by admin
Most typical children naturally love to pretend play and intuitively use their imaginations at a relatively early age. We see this in normal development the strongest around 3-6 years of age. A child may pick up a toy car and “pretend” it is driving up and down the furniture; he may joyfully make sounds to indicate the car’s speed and motor. As the child becomes more mature and develops relationships in the world, he might race the car and tell us a story about who is in the car, where they are going and other details. Children learn about their world through play and then are able to develop healthy imaginations.
Children with Autism very often have challenges in developing healthy imaginations as well as engaging in purposeful or imaginative play. This, in addition to communication and socialization is an area that the creative therapies can help with. By engaging the child creatively and meeting them where they are, we can bring out their own interests and help them develop this skill in fun ways.
Puppet making is a great activity that combines art and play together! There are very simple ways to make puppets that can be executed by artists and novices alike. There is even pre-cut fabric or paper “blanks” that can be used as starters from various school supply or art supply vendors. There are a variety of styles such as paper bag puppets, sock puppets, finger puppets, stick puppets or glove puppets to name a few. Here is a link for a simple paper bag puppet in which all you need is a small brown bag, computer printer, scissors and glue: http://www.dltk-kids.com/crafts/teddy/mbearbag.html
There are many different styles and ways to create puppets and it really doesn’t matter which one you choose. The goal is to work together and encourage the child to be creative and imaginative with both the act of making the puppet and then with playing afterwards. A visual reference is always good to have, so making a sample puppet ahead of time might be helpful or having a picture. However, do try to promote creative changes as the child makes their own puppet. Verbal feedback is a good way to support the child’s efforts. Saying, “Oh, I like the way you used blue hair on yours instead of brown, it’s so fun and bright!” As you are creating the puppet with the child there may be opportunities to start “pretending” by making voices or giving the puppet a name.
After the art making, the play can begin. At first, some children on the spectrum may not join in but rather observe the play, or just not be paying attention at all. This is ok; you may have to play for them instead of with them in the beginning. Eventually, they may become curious and try some things with the puppet. Even if it doesn’t seem to make sense, follow their lead and go with it.
At some point, the puppets may be a projection for the child’s feelings and thoughts. Although some children with ASD may not have the verbal skills to express it fully, they may be able to have the puppet make a sound, or do a dance or gesture. The storytelling or the imaginative play can very often reflect some real issues ultimately. So, while having fun and letting the child explore with the puppet, the therapist or parent may be able to pick up on some things that otherwise may have not been noticed. But ultimately, it will be a fun activity that can open up the child’s creativity and help develop imagination and play skills.Creative Interventions, Parent's Corner, Sensory Intergration by admin
Creative art making can offer unique ways for children togain a sense of control and mastery of their environment, grow in self expression, self awareness and self-esteem. This holds true for children with special needs, ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and other developmental issues as well. However, these children very often have “sensory” issues or sensory integration disorder which can affect their responses to various art materials. That is why it is important to have a trained and credentialed art therapist or related professional assess the child and create a customized program that can help the child with sensory issues while at the same time engage in creative expression.
Children may experience deficits in one or several sensory areas; the most often observed is visual processing, auditory processing, and “tactile defensiveness” (an aversion to certain textures and touching). Art making with an experienced therapist can often break through these issues in a fun and non-threatening way; enabling the child to experience new and creative expression.
Art making is obviously a visual modality, but those children with visual processing issues may need adaptations, concrete steps, and prompts in order to follow effectively. Sometimes using a page border helps contain the image making. Using dark colors on white paper or white chalk on black paper can create maximum contrast. Utilizing thicker crayons and markers can build a stronger visual focus. Also, the therapist can incorporate dotted lines as a “starter” for the child to trace around lines or shapes. Another processing technique is to present materials in a clock-like manner one by one; avoiding too many materials in the working space.
Helpful Techniques for Auditory Processing Difficulties
- Combine verbal instructions with sign language or hand motions
- Make sure the art making activity is presented in a quiet room or area
- Utilize pictures or “samples” of a particular art project when giving directions
- Use visual cues when transitioning from one activity to another along with instructions
(such as flashing lights on and off in the room)
What is Tactile Defensiveness?
The main cause is neurological disorganization in the midbrain region of the brain which is basically responsible for filtering incoming stimuli, and, may not sufficiently screen out all extraneous tactile stimulation causing the child to perceive the input as extreme and uncomfortable. The central nervous system ability to process tactile sensory input is distorted causing the child great discomfort. Their brain may register subtle sensations as extreme irritation or even painful and he may respond in an abnormally reactive way such as grimacing or pulling away from the stimulus.
Sensory based art making is a fascinating modality that allows children to engage in creative expression with no pressures. Using this approach, an Art Therapist can assess the severity of tactile issues and can help the child build tolerance in this area. Depending on the nature of the tactile defensiveness, the art therapist can use materials within the art making or as a separate activity of just playing with the materials; this starts the process of de-sensitizing the child in a fun and non-threatening manner.
Here are some art and play materials that are often used:
- Cornstarch and water play (creates a “gooey-like substance)
- Feathers, chenille, pom-poms to create “texturecollages”
- Water-play using food dye and various containers
- Play dough, putty, and other modeling compounds
- String, felt, other craft materials
- Sand –art
- Shaving cream finger-painting
- Rice, shredded tissue paper
The list goes on and the therapist can create recipes and projects that are tailored to the child’s interests to encourage engagement. The caution here would be to go slowly and not overwhelm or over stimulate the child with an abundance of tactile materials. Let the child take the lead and if the child responds negatively, make a note and try new materials.