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What are the Benefits of Art Therapy for Autism?

By Jacob Queen
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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The main benefits of art therapy for autism are in the area of helping with communication. Autistic children usually have trouble expressing themselves and understanding the subtleties of meaning when others communicate. Teaching them how to create art gives them another method of expressing themselves that may be much easier for them to use, especially for autistic children who show a strong visual aptitude. Creating art also provides a way for autistic children to improve their overall self-opinion and gives them a feeling of independence. Experts agree that art therapy for autism isn’t a cure, and it doesn’t work in every case, but many suggest that it can be very helpful for certain individuals.

People suffering with autism are disabled in their ability to relate to others. They can’t generally express their emotions effectively and they don’t have a fine sense for understanding the emotional reactions of others. People with autism can also often be very inflexible in their behaviors. This combination of symptoms can make it very difficult for autistic individuals to live normal productive lives.

In art therapy for autism, the therapist will generally work to teach the autistic person methods of painting or drawing and will also show the patient how these abilities can be used to express emotions and ideas. In many cases, the therapist will actually help the autistic person produce the art as part of the teaching process, especially in the beginning. Over time, the patient develops an ability to create something, which can have many benefits. On a very basic level, the actual process of attending art therapy is meant to be an enjoyable experience for the patient, and the positive environment can help improve the patient's overall outlook and social abilities.

Art therapy can get to the very heart of the problem of autism by providing a communication outlet, and it also helps autistic individuals get out of their inflexible routines by giving them something new and different to try. There aren’t actually very many scientific studies to back up the idea of using art therapy for autism, but there is literature suggesting that it has worked well in several individual cases where it’s been tried. Anecdotally, people who’ve tried this therapeutic method for their autistic children generally have positive things to say about the effects. At the very least, many patients may enjoy the therapy, and some show improvement in their ability to relate.

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Discussion Comments

By browncoat — On Jan 16, 2012

I've actually heard that music therapy works for autism although I'm sure art therapy is good as well. Neither of them is guaranteed, or is a cure, of course, and the outcome will depend on the person, on the therapist and so forth.

One of the best stories I've heard is of a family who struggled with their autistic child for years, unable to really understand how she was feeling because they couldn't figure out how to communicate with her.

And then the mother decided to try art therapy. It wasn't so much the therapy, as that the mother sat with her child, working alongside her on her own bit of art for a while each day. That kind of "together but apart" approach seems to work well with autistic children.

After that the mother felt like she had more of connection with her child, and they began to get along much better in the entire family.

By umbra21 — On Jan 15, 2012

I think one of the key things here is that it is an activity that an autistic person might enjoy. This is good not only for the person in question but also for their family.

From what I've experienced, one of the most difficult things about this condition for the family is that it is so difficult to relate to the autistic person. It's hard to know if they are happy or at least content.

If activities can be found, including art, which are obviously enjoyed by the person, then I think even without any other benefits, that's going to be a relief for the family.

It seems like a difficult life, and being able to give their family member some small enjoyment in an activity can be very therapeutic.

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