Play therapy activities for autistic children can take many forms. Play can be unstructured or formal. It can use elaborate curriculum or nothing but a few building blocks and a friendly patch of floor. While the methods change, the aim is always the same. By participating actively in play therapy games, you’ll be able to increase social communication and language development on your child’s favorite terms.
Art lessons can be a very effective form of play therapy. Art projects allow the same kind of free-wheeling self expression as other play therapy techniques. All children benefit from art and music classes in school. Unfortunately, schools cut programs in art and music first when budgets are tight. The same holds true for programs for autistic children. Because language development is so important, other methods of self- expression can be overlooked.
We’ve assembled a short list of the benefits that art lessons can bring to your child’s play therapy activities:
It Increases Attention Span
Short attention spans are a problem in any school setting. The problem generally isn’t that children can’t concentrate. It’s more likely that they’re more interested in something else instead of the topic at hand.
That’s why art lessons are such a great addition to play therapy activities. While they have a certain amount of structure to them, but the open-ended nature of art projects has a tendency to fascinate children.
It Improves Self-Expression
Many parents discover their children are autistic when their child’s language development lags behind their peers. Most autism intervention techniques are designed to approach social communication from different angles. Many children learn sign language, for instance, when speaking skills can’t keep up with their increasingly sophisticated thinking.
Art classes are just another way to allow children to share their thoughts and feelings with others. A blank canvas is an invitation to kids to express themselves in any way that suits them. It’s another version of the same concept that applies to all play therapy activities.
It Helps With Communication Skills
Play therapy is based on adapting to your child’s preferred communication methods. By participating fully in their activities, parents can achieve a closer rapport that increases social communication. Art projects are another great way to allow your child to tell you what’s on their mind. Of course art projects put this communication in a purely visual format. But all language consists of symbols, either spoken or written, that communicate meaning. Art instruction simply adds to the ways your child can tell you what’s on their mind.
It Helps Hand-Eye Coordination
Sports and games can have too many rules for many children, especially children with autism. This can lead to a lag in developing hand-eye coordination. Art instruction takes a more freewheeling approach to what happens when the paint pots come out of the desk. Art projects can encompass both fine work and broad strokes, so no one is left out. The repetition that comes naturally to art classes helps children develop fine motor control that will serve them all through their life.
It Increases Expression Through Symbols
Artists often link three things when they describe the artistic process: Head-Heart-Hand. Artistic projects take intellectual observations of the world around us, then process them through our heart — how we feel about them. The final part of the process is putting them in some visible format so that you can make others understand what you’re thinking and feeling.
In a way, that’s a description of all social communication. The artistic version of play therapy produces artistic symbols to express things like mood. Letters and words are just symbols, and increasing your child’s ability to process observations and feelings into symbols that convey meaning helps with other modes of communication. The process is the same no matter what the language.
Don’t Rule Yourself Out
Parents of autistic children often reach out to support groups, doctors, therapists, and schools for help with their child’s development. When you’re looking for advice on adding art lessons to your child’s daily activities, don’t assume that if you’re not an artist, you’re not qualified to help your child express themselves through art. No one knows your child better than you do, and with a little help, you’ll be perfectly capable of helping your little artist make something they’ll be proud to display. There are few things in this world more gratifying than being the first to hear the words: Look what I made!