The common image associated with therapy consists of Freud asking an adult client, who is laying down on the couch, to explain how he really feels. In reality, there are a number of theoretical approaches to psychotherapy, including play therapy, behavioral therapy, or music therapy. Art therapy is another type of therapy that has proven to be beneficial for people of all ages and backgrounds, including individuals on the autism spectrum. Art therapy offers unique benefits that other therapeutic services may not offer, focusing on the creative process as a form of therapy.
The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”
Art therapy has a number of benefits for individuals with autism such as:
- Sensory Stimulation. Art therapy can be a very tactile experience, as described on the Art Beyond Sight website. In a blog post on Love That Max, Diane Quiroga mentioned the experience of an autistic client who enjoyed the sensory stimulation from the art materials. Such stimulating sensations can be calming and comforting for people on the spectrum.
- Developing interpersonal/social skills
- Relieving feelings of anxiety and stress
- Being an effective creative/expressive outlet for those who are nonverbal or have a limited vocabulary due to age and/or autism diagnosis
- Increasing self-esteem
- Managing behavior. One study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association described the case of a five-year-old child with sensory integration difficulties that affected his classroom behavior. Art therapy treatment proved to be helpful for him and improved his behavior.
- Developing motor skills
- Developing a sense of self