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Art Therapy and its Benefits

What is art therapy?


Art therapy is a way for your child to express themselves and communicate through play and creative activity. Though any highly sensitive person can benefit, it is especially useful to those that are autistic. Among autistic children, non-verbal children tend to benefit from it the most since they might not be able to express themselves fully during typical talk therapy. Ideally, you would want to look for an art therapist who is trained to deal with autistic children.


What is the difference between an art class and art therapy?


The main aim of art therapy is to help your child achieve certain goals catered to their individual strengths and weaknesses. Many autistic children suffer from mental health issues like anxiety and depression, low self esteem, or trauma. Art therapy uses art to heal such issues. It can help your child learn emotional regulation, express their feelings, and physically vent out negative feelings from their body to release them. Art therapists will also incorporate mindfulness strategies and other coping tools during their sessions. Just as you pursue speech or physical therapy for your child’s body, art therapy addresses your child’s emotional and mental state. 


A therapy session will follow a specific structure. The idea is that engaging with different materials will lead to different mental states. Your therapist might want to first warm up to later exercises by getting the child to use materials that are easy to control, like colouring pencils or crayons, to colour in a picture or make a collage. Your child will not simply be handed a blank piece of paper and asked to draw, that can increase anxiety levels because your child does not know the “right” way to fill the page. Once warmed up, there will be more goal-oriented activities to activate the brain and body, and by the end of the session your child should feel grounded, calm, and safe. The studio will have various supports to accommodate your child, including visual aids, adaptive lighting, tactile materials, etc. 


For parents who would like to engage in some form of art therapy at home, here are some ideas and pointers:


1. Follow your child’s lead. Is there an area of the house that they are drawn to? Materials they like to use? Start there. You don’t need to necessarily dedicate a whole room to this; sectioning off a corner of a room is enough.


2. Don’t do the artwork for your child. Art therapy is about the process of making the art, not the product. There is no right way to express yourself. You want your child to feel totally safe expressing themselves, free of all judgement.


3. Never critique your child’s art. Instead, ask them what their art means to them and wait for them to tell you.

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