Family members are not independent of one another. We need to view the family as a part of a system of specified relationships, adopted roles of behavior and unconscious and conscious rules of communication. In the case of a special needs child with limited communication skills, it is even more important to identify the dynamics of the family.
Sometimes there are difficulties that arise within a family, especially if there are extra behavioral challenges that the child is having. Stress levels are more elevated and this does not help the child or the other family members deal with the current issues. The parents may fight more or there may be less communication happening to solve the problems at hand.
Traditional talk therapy for the family with a special needs child may be limited and leaves that child out of the session. However, this may be necessary if the issues are more adult specific, such as marital issues and in that case couples therapy would be helpful.
However if we want to assess how all the family members are working together along with the child with special needs, we may need to develop creative ways to help that family interact. By bringing a family together and creating a mural or a joint art activity, the art therapist assess the dynamics. It can also facilitate awareness about each member regarding family roles, alliances, communication patterns and ultimately recognize how the child with special needs fits into this equation. We may need to ask: Do they baby the child? Do they ignore the child when things are too overwhelming? How do they include their child with the rest of the family?
Gaining this awareness can facilitate the family members to not only recognize the patterns of existing behaviors and relational issues but can also empower the members to identify how their special needs child is affected by all these influences happening at home.
Behaviors, For Professionals, General Information, Learning, Parent's Corner by admin
Parents with Autistic children want to do everything they can to protect their child; especially when it comes to social situations. They avoid putting their children in circumstances that are frightening to their child. However, setting up a child in a therapeutic program that provides social opportunities will help them learn and grow. It is important to make sure that the providers of these programs are trained and know how to work with Autistic children. More “social kills” groups are immerging and parents need to choose the ones that are best for their child’s interests and developmental level. If your child is interested in art, music, dance, or sports choose the activity that will engage them into participating the most.
Art Therapy can provide children with opportunities to build social skills in addition to exploring their senses and creativity. When designed appropriately, a group session should include a playtime or circle time where they will be able to learn to make friends and how to interact with others. During the art making as well as the sharing circle, the therapist may need to “prompt” the children to share their ideas, pass art materials and show the work that they completed. After a few sessions, the goal would be: less prompting and more spontaneous sharing and socializing with one another. Art making is also an easy and non-threatening way to connect with peers; especially when a group project is presented. Children learn to cooperate with one another by making choices as a group.
Many children on the autism spectrum have difficulty when it comes to understanding how another individual feels. This may influence how they are able to interact with others and respond appropriately. One way to help them with this is to use and/or make picture cards of characters with different facial expressions and body language. The more they learn about these “cues” the more they will be able to interact better. Since art therapy is a visual modality, many signs, symbols and visual prompts can be made either for or with the children to help maintain positive behaviors. When behaviors are in check, openness to socializing increases. Some helpful visual aids for both verbal and non-verbal children include: a group schedule, pictures of art materials (PECs can be used), various tasks and behaviors.
Adolescents, Creative Interventions, For Professionals, General Information by admin
Within many different cultures and throughout the course of human history, we have seen a variety of masks created for aesthetics, symbolism and ritual. As an art therapist, I have found mask making with clients to be an incredibly powerful and often an enlightening process for both the client and myself.
Designing a mask and then wearing it allows us to expose certain parts of ourselves that we are not usually willing to recognize in everyday life. However, on the flip side, a mask may cover up who we really are at that moment, and then acts as a protective shield from our true feelings. More often, we may simply be trying on a different “persona” and allowing our creative imaginations to have some fun!
There are a variety of materials that can be used and depending on the age and functioning level of the individual, I try to adjust accordingly. One favorite technique that I have used often is the application of “rigid wrap” onto a plastic mold of a face. This material is similar to casting material as it has a dried coating of plaster on a piece of gauze like material. When dipped in water, it activates the plaster and can be manipulated onto any shape. Then, when dried it forms a hardened shape of the mold. This process takes 2 sessions usually because the mask has to dry and then can be decorated the following week. Some art therapists use this material right onto the human face in order to get the true essence of the person. However, I feel it can be too invasive and rather uncomfortable, so I have always used the mold.
Other materials can be much more simple and fun to use, especially with kids. I have used paper plates and oak tag with an assortment of decorating supplies and the results were just as amazing. Sometimes these simple materials can create more imaginative ideas! The process can go in so many ways and I tend to let the clients direct this to their own comfort level.
There are many questions that can be asked either outwardly or kept unsaid. Did they focus on the outside or inside of the mask? What dominant colors were used? Does the mask exposes their true feelings/self, or does it serve to hide them from the outside world? With children, I sometimes have them wear it and pretend, perhaps have them tell a story about their mask. Ina group setting, it is sometimes fun to have others guess who’s is whose or find characteristics that remind them of each other.
Here is a useful link for parents and children who want to have fun with mask making http://www.parents-choice.org/article.cfm?art_id=212&the_page=editorials
Adolescents, Behaviors, Creative Interventions, For Professionals, General Information, Learning, Parent's Corner, Sensory Intergration by admin
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 by admin
In the field of Art Therapy, we are very often involved in group work. There are many factors that help us define our groups and customize them for the art making process. Often, we are faced with the challenges of addressing the needs of each client, yet we should remember that we are treating the group as a whole as well. Group therapy can be a very powerful process with the right chemistry of participants……
What is Group Therapy?
Group therapy is a type of psychotherapy that involves one or more therapists working with several people at the same time. This type of therapy is widely available at a variety of locations, including private therapeutic practices, hospitals, mental health clinics and community centers. Group therapy is sometimes used alone, but it is also commonly integrated into a comprehensive treatment plan that also includes individual therapy and medication.
The Principles of Group Therapy In The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, Irvin D. Yalom outlines the key therapeutic principles that have been derived from self-reports from individuals who have been involved in the group therapy process:
The instillation of hope:
The group contains members at different stages of the treatment process. Seeing people who are coping or recovering gives hope to those at the beginning of the process.
Being in a group of people experiencing the same things helps people see that what they are going through is universal and that they are not alone.
Imparting information: Group members are able to help each other by sharing information.
Group members are able to share their strengths and help others in the group, which can boost self-esteem and confidence.
The corrective recapitulation of the primary family group: The therapy group is much like a family in some ways. Within the group, each member can explore how childhood experiences contributed to personality and behaviors. They can also learn to avoid behaviors that are destructive or unhelpful in their real life.
Development of socialization techniques:
The group setting is a great place to practice new behaviors. The setting is safe and supportive, allowing group members to experiment without the fear of failure.
Individuals can model the behavior of other members of the group or observe and imitate the behavior of the therapist.
By interacting with other people and receiving feedback from the group and the therapist, each individual can gain a greater understanding of himself or herself.
Because the group is united in a common goal, members gain a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Sharing feelings and experiences with a group of people can help relieve pain, guilt or stress.
While working within a group offers support and guidance, group therapy helps member realize that they are responsible for their own lives, action and choices.
Art Therapy Approaches in Groups
1. Individual art making with sharing projects or artwork is created by each participant
2. Separate parts that are part of the whole- each participant create a piece for the larger work
3. Collaborative art making-members work together on one art piece
4. “Open Studio” approach- An art studio where client create more free and work at their own pace
5. Directive vs. Non-Directive- A Directive approach is where the art work has a structure or ”direction”
6. “Processing” and insight through the artwork (talking about work with others)
Murals- large art pieces done on walls Large designs- (example: making leaves for a tree)
Designing a scene- group creates together
Other collaborative art
Types of Art Therapy Groups/ Approaches
Based on condition, age or diagnosis
In a facility, as part of treatment plan
Voluntary- persons seek out the group for well-being
Children’s groups: behavioral, emotional, medical condition, loss and bereavement
Groups within school settings- developed by teaching staff and/or school counselors
Groups in wellness centers
Video Clips of Group Art Therapy
Behaviors, Creative Interventions, For Professionals, General Information, Learning, Parent's Corner by admin
Those of us who have children with ADHD or have worked professionally with children with this disorder know the challenges of trying to engage them in an activity that they can sustain AND use their minds purposefully. I have both; a son with this disorder and I have had clinical cases with this disorder. As a parent of a child with this disorder, I know that giving my son opportunities to build his self-esteem is a very important aspect to sustainable focus. In other words, when the child can gain mastery in a particular activity, their confidence builds and hence they ”stick with it”.
The arts can be a great vehicle in this endevour. Engaging in creative activities such as art, music and dance have been shown to help children with ADHD calm down because it utilizes the part of the brain that controls emotions. When the emotions are under control, the focusing can be much easier. Most of us have experienced this; when we are upset about a personal issue….isn’t hard to concentrate at work? So, therefore reaching the emotional brains through the arts can infact increase focus.
Basically, children with ADHD find it difficult to slow down their minds and bodies in order to concentrate on basic activities. When use art based activities, we usually see a shift in mood. The creative mind helps most children (and adults) get to a focused state of “being in the flow”. If we in fact find the right fit of a creative activity, we can truely help the child with attentional issues have a fuller experience of engaement as well as see them feeling happy and confident.
For similar reasons, children suffering from other anxiety based disorders and issues can also benefit from creative activities and art therapy. When they become involved with expressing their feelings in a creative way, they are too busy and focused to be concerned about negative thoughts, the passage of time, or other distractions. Of course , this does not happen right away……we must build trust and assess the develolmental level of the child in order to offer the right approach.
I beleive in a flexible structure based on the needs of the child. Some children with ADHD will need more more breaks, specific times to complete a task, reminders about impulses and behaviors, etc…. Overall, the benefits of art therapy are the ways in which it can access the right brain and allow the child to be in the creative process; even within a structured environment. In addition when working with several children in a small group, we can involve cooperative art making which enhances social skills and communication; all things that children with ADHD can use.
Things to keep in mind:
1) Allow for choice and try to find something that interests the child
2) Limit the amount of art materials that are offered- it can over stimualte the child
3) Create structure for the child such as time limitations, behaviors that are not to be tolerated and scheduled breaks
4) Use praise when child completes the task, prompt child to remain on task when distractions take over
5) Encourage expression about feelings; acknowledge when they are frustrated and support their processCreative 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, LCATFor Professionals, General Information, Learning by admin
As I observed a young boy with Autism in one of our groups, I kept trying to “figure him out”. Why does he flutter his hands? What makes him jumpy or make the sounds that he does? How can we get him to participate with the others in the art therapy process? As clinicians, we are always looking for the right approach or mix or perhaps the right ”connection” to the child. But what I am discovering is that maybe those answers will not be avaialble any time soon- so in the meantime I think that focusing on the journey with the child and staying with the unanswered questions can be the enough for the moment. It may feel as if we are not connecting or making progress, but as with all therapeutic processes the subleties can pave the way.
Here are some points to keep in mind when working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders:
1) Remember that Autism is a challenging disorder and there will be a lot of tough days, so go easy on yourself.
2) Meet the child where they are at that moment in time. Sense the energy level and try to empathize with their potential discomforts. If the energy is high and overstimulating, offer calming activities with little pressure.
3) If the child’s voice or level of verbal sounds is loud….do not try to “speak over them” but rather lower your voice and calmly wait for them to see that you are trying to communicate with them, this takes patience. But, very often they will want to hear you and will become quieter in order to listen.
4) Sometimse offering a light touch or contact to their should or back may get their attention, calm them or regulate their energy. But be careful to ask the child if it is ok to touch them as it can be misread and there may be issues with touch.
5) Be aware of bright lights, loud outside noises or other stimulating sources in the environment. See if dimming lights helps, or adding soft music to the room helps. You can also teach the child to do deep breathing….this sometimes works wonders, espsecially if you make it into a game or use bubbles.
So, although we may not have all the answers to everything about how and why the child behaves a certain way or can’t seem to connect to his peers or to us, we can relax a bit and just try to be available for the child as best we can. As we travel the journey, an answer or two may just appear when its supposed to.
Creative Interventions, For Professionals, General Information, Learning by admin
When working with groups, it is just as important to always remain flexible and to adapt to the different levels of functioning displayed by each child. Sometimes providing a theme to the art making helps give the children a focus while still allowing for changes and flexibility. Here is an example of a group art therapy directive with that incorporates all three key treatment areas (communication, socialization, and imagination). This format can be adapted to other art activities. The session is structured to have a beginning, middle and end, with clear boundaries. This structure is especially effective for children with autism because it serves as a comforting routine. Aides or volunteers are used in a ratio appropriate or the level of functioning and the individual needs of each group member.
An Example of a group art therapy directive with ASD
• Directive: Create images related to friendship, friends, and children. Group project (mural) will be included.
• Beginning of session: Have children sit at table and introduce theme/project. Show pictures related to friendship and see verbal and nonverbal reactions to photos. Ask children to design their own “friend” (using multicultural outlines of gingerbread style figures). Offer a variety of pre-cut papers, fun googly-eyes and drawing materials as well. Encourage sharing of materials, and recognizing each other’s work.
• Middle of session: Invite children to help decorate a group friendship poster/mural by adding their “friend” to the paper and continue to fill in the environment where the friends can play. Offer “starters” (such as some outlines of trees or grass) and direct aides to help children. Assess how children are working together – whether they are staying contained in work area or are becoming over-stimulated. Allow children to take short breaks with their aides if needed.
• Closure: Offer children some free time to play creatively with sensory materials such as model magic or some drawing with crayons or markers.Then, if the group is still focused (and there are verbally-expressive children participating), conduct a “sharing circle” where they will be encouraged to describe their friend to the group or ask about another group member’s work.
• Goals and Outcomes:
1. Children will learn about “working together.”
2. Children will learn social skills and group awareness by sharing materials and comments
3. Children will experience the sensory aspects of collage, texture, and art materials.
4. Children will have choices and be able to express creatively.
Bear in mind that working with this population can be very challenging. What works for one session or child may not for another. It is important to remain open-minded and aware of each child’s status in each moment; in essence, we are constantly assessing, adapting, and co-creating our sessions with the children with whom we work.