Roisin Sarsfield MA,AT, IACAT
Roisin Sarsfield is a qualified, registered Art Therapist. She is currently employed by an organisation working with children with a range of social and behavioural issues. She has worked with a range of clients, including special education and mental health. During her time working with clients of all ages and backgrounds, she has found Art Therapy to be a fundamental coping tool, that’s gives the client a voice through the images they create. It also helps with self regulation and helps to build the client’s self confidence and self esteem. Roisin outlines Art therapy and it’s benefits:
Art Therapy and Autism
Broadly speaking, art therapy promotes mental and emotional growth through art making. Unlike art instruction, art therapy is conducted with the aim of building life skills, addressing deficits and problem behaviours, and promoting healthy self-expression. Clients are encouraged to explore and express themselves using art materials; crafting attractive artwork is not the goal (though it may be a happy by-product).
Art presents an Alternative to Verbal Communication
Art therapy is a natural fit for autism for several reasons. People with autism may have impaired communication. Verbal self-expression and language is often especially difficult. One person with autism writes “I just couldn’t get my words out. It was like a big stutter… Screaming was the only way I could communicate.” Art offers a way for people who have trouble “speaking their mind” with words to express themselves directly, without words. People with autism are often highly visual thinkers, and many report that they “think in pictures”. Expressing feelings and ideas through images is very natural for such people and can be a welcome relief from the daily struggle to use words effectively.
Art therapy can help with social skills
People with autism also tend to struggle with social issues, such as interpreting tone of voice and facial expression, and may feel uncomfortable relating to others. One-on-one interactions, such as conversations, are often extremely intimidating and stressful. For such people, working alongside a therapist can be much more comfortable. As the two share focus on the client’s art-making, a powerful bond can be forged without the initial need for direct, face-to-face interaction. Art can also be a wonderful facilitator in forming connections with peers. Cooperation, turn-taking, respecting differences and other social skills can all be practised in an enjoyable, natural setting. People with autism may also struggle to comprehend other people’s perspectives; looking at a peer’s art work offers a concrete way to “see” another person’s point of view. Working together on group projects fosters cooperation, teamwork and a sense of acceptance.