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
Creative Interventions, For Professionals, Parent's Corner by admin
Divorce and separation can be very stressful on the entire family as we know. Children have significant resiliency in most cases but often need to have some type of therapeutic intervention to help them understand, cope and most importantly express what they are feeling and going through.
Using creative modalities such as art and play therapy allows a child to express themselves in an age appropriate way when words may be too hard or unavailable to them. The benefits of art making can help a child feel less stressed and anxious by providing a safe and non threatening manner in which to “tell their story”. The art therapist can also gain some insight as to the child’s perception about their parents, their understanding about what divorce actually is, and the expectations of how life will change.
Very young children are often unaware of what divorce means as well as the permanency of it. There may be unrealistic resolutions in their mind. Using dolls or books about divorce can help clear up misconceptions. Whereas older children will have more anger and resentment that can lead to behavioral issues. Offering choices within the session can be empowering and engaging for the pre-adolescent or adolescent.
Here are some creative interventions that I have used with children coping with divorce:
1) Have them fill in a giant heart with colors of “feelings” words to describe what is going on inside
2) Divide a paper in half and have them draw Mom’s house and Dad’s house
3) Make a “worry” box or container- this is where they can write little notes about what is bothering them or worrying them. This can be shared later with therapist, mom or dad.
4) Puppet making and acting- a great way to “tell a story” and project feelings through pretend play.
5) Create a fun calendar that shows visitation days- this is helpful for younger children getting used to the routine of switching homes.
6) Collage, painting, drawing, using clay and other media can be a natural way for children to express and open up. Sometimes no direction of what to create can be spontaneous and more healing when used at the right time.
Keep in mind divorce is a form of loss. There is an process of denial, grieving and acceptance. A child may experience some or all of these in their way way and at their own time. We just need to support and foster healing where ever they are.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_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, 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, Learning, Parent's Corner by admin
Within my private practice with the Autism population, I have discovered that the parent-child dyad can be a wonderful way to work if the circumstances are right. It enables me to model for the parent and offer creative strategies and techniques for their child. But even beyond that it is an enriching experience for me as the therapist as well. I learn how parent and child relate and communicate with each other; helping me work better for the child.
I have been working with a young client for over a year where I am fortunate to have this situation. Mom is very open to working with her son (around 9 years old with moderate ASD) and helping him to discover his inner creativity. Having her part of the session is also a great asset because she can comfort and “regulate” him when over stimulation occurs. She then becomes a model for me as well!
So how does this dyad really work? Besides having mom there for a comfort to the child, she is able to tap into her own process. In addition, I can sense the energy and synergy between mother and child; bringing them back to the beginning stages of attachment. This helps the child explore the creative modalities that I present to the both of them. The trust is there and the child and mom play off each other with my direction.
However, the session must still have a structure. This child (like most ASD children) thrives on having a schedule and knowing what comes next; behavorial strategies are still incorporated maintaining focus and engagement. I have adapted a child-centered approach by combining it with behavorial techniques-not easy, but possible. There is a lot of mirroring, but also redirecting. There are limits set and he responds well to this. However, within the limits, I always include choice making.
The mom and I set the stage together. We create a “schedule” (see diagram below) for her son to visually see and have him make choices (he is verbal) about what activities he would like to include.
Throughout the course of the session, we refer back to the schedule and cross off the activities that we have already completed. This feels comforting for the child as he maintains awareness and control by actively knowing what is next.
I also allow for breaks when needed. This allows him to regulate his sensory needs. He gets up and jumps, stretches, goes to the bathroom, has a snack, or just relaxes. Sensory issues and/or basic needs can sometimes come up during the session and all that is needed is a “mini” break. For example, he has oral needs and will eat a chewy fruit snack and be fine. I may have not known this if mom was not available.
Would this approach work for all children? I think it depends on the needs, age and their issues of attachment. With this particular client, I do know that at the end of the session, it appears that both the mom and her child are satisfied and have enjoyed the creative process and the activities presented. At times, she becomes so overwhelmed by his accomplishments it is quite emotional to witness. The artwork lines the kitchen counter and both mom and her son gaze together very proud; feeling good about the time spent together.
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.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.