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.