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5 Ways Art Therapy Can Benefit Children Living With Autism

Written by: Melinda Briton, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


I find many people asking me lately if art therapy will help their child who has autism. Well the answer is yes and no. People with autism are neurologically different to neurotypical people, that’s for sure. But in many, many other ways we are all the same.

A Professional Child Psychologist Observing Little Boy Playing With Toys At The Psychotherapy Session

We all need our basic, physiological needs met before we can feel truly safe.

We must feel safe before we can feel that we belong.

We must feel we belong before we can feel a good sense of esteem, and…

we must feel a good sense of esteem before we can experience self-actualisation (a realisation of fulfilment in life). This is the same for us all. If someone with autism connects with creative expression, or finds words difficult to express, if they are willing to work through their big emotions, or problems in life, then yes ‒ art therapy can absolutely benefit anyone with autism, child or otherwise. If the person in question does not particularly tick some or most of these boxes ‒ art therapy will likely not benefit them. With all that said, here are 5 reasons art therapy could help someone living with autism:

1. Art Therapy Facilitates Connection and Safety

When the social connection has become scary (as can be the case with autism), art connection can rebuild. The focus can remain on the art until such time as the therapist perceives the client is feeling safe in the space. The sharing of the art, the collaboration of the artists, the gentle discussions around the art ‒ all of these things can come over time when the time is right. Before you know it, there can be laughter, joy and expression ‒ CONNECTION. And an assuredness of safety.

2. Art Therapy Can Facilitate the Acceptance of Self and Others

Once safety is established in the space, the skilled art therapist can begin to use every opportunity to gently, authentically and explicitly discuss the differences between looking through the autistic lens and the neurological lens, using the art as the springboard. Of course, it is important to also use the art to explore and validate the explosive feelings that may come up as these differences are organically identified and discussed.

3. Art Therapy Facilitates Control of Emotional Expression

It has been my observation that, as people grow up with autism, their emotional reactions can be considered socially unacceptable. “You can’t behave like that. Can’t say that. Can’t pull that face. Can’t use that word. Can’t move like that.” In the art therapy space all clients are allowed to choose how they will express their feelings through their art. No artistic expression is considered wrong. This can be hugely relieving.

4. Art Therapy Facilitates Growth in Understanding of Self and Others

The safety, belonging, and acceptance that can be found in the art therapy space creates the perfect conditions for gently learning to understand ourselves. Once we begin to understand ourselves, we can better understand other people. Art therapy sessions provide a safe place to explore ‘others’, with the perfect platform for non-judgemental answering of questions and the expression of thoughts and emotions. Sometimes full ‘understanding’ can never be reached, as is the case with all of us. But an art therapy environment is a good place to begin trying!

5. Art Therapy Provides a Platform of Visual Learning

By creating art about our behaviour, and the consequences of it, we separated ourselves just enough that we can begin to be more self-reflective rather than self-flagellating. We can safely observe our behaviour in our created images. By creating images of the ideal responses to various situations, the person with autism can clearly create a visual script, if you like. These visuals, created by their own hand, can become the hook to which they cling when their pre-frontal cortex begins walking on thin ice!

Living with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) or living alongside someone with ASD can be a life full of niche laughs, endearing oddities, and delightful paths outside the box. But it can also be extremely confusing for those living with the condition and those living alongside.

Art therapy can be a wonderful tool to break through some of those barriers and find our similarities.

As Marie Curie said, “we only fear what we don’t understand.”

Once we begin understanding, we can live a life that is less fearful and more joyful.

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Melinda Briton, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Melinda Briton became an art therapist after noticing, as an educator for over a decade, a gross inability between students and teachers alike to identify and regulate emotions in the classroom. Having a deep passion for effective and equitable education, she wondered how she might fill the niche. Meli Swan Art Therapy was born. Meli believes that having a solid foundation in emotional processing is a key element in effective education for both neurotypical and neurodiverse people. She brings her expertise as a Teacher for the Supported, music teacher and drama teacher (k-10), and her personal experience with a Learning Difference to her roll as art therapist.



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