art therapy autism

Art Therapy for Children with Autism Pamela Ullmann, MS, ATR-BC, LCAT, CCLS © 2009 Pamela Ullmann

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Page 1: Art Therapy Autism

Art Therapy for Children with Autism

Pamela Ullmann, MS, ATR-BC, LCAT, CCLS

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

Page 2: Art Therapy Autism

Art Therapy• Art therapy is an established mental health

profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental, and emotional well being of individuals of all ages.

• It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight (American Art Therapy Association)

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

Page 3: Art Therapy Autism

• Behavioral issues• Crisis or trauma• Loss and bereavement• Emotional difficulties• Illness or medical issues• Special needs- sensory integration,

adaptive art and play, developmental delays

Focus of Treatment

*Focus for Children with Autism© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

Page 4: Art Therapy Autism

• Sensory input and feelings• Story telling through art • Symbolic representation• Dramatizing situations• Social skills • Behaviors and reactions

Assessment Through Observed Creative Expression

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

Page 5: Art Therapy Autism

Focus: Behavioral Approach

• Sessions are more structured

• Goals are established

• Modeling of behaviors

• Reward systems

• Use of praise

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

Page 6: Art Therapy Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

• Childhood Disintegrative Disorder• Rett's Disorder • Autistic Disorder • Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)• Asperger’s Syndrome

A person with ASD is a person diagnosed with one of these five disorders. The disorders within this “spectrum” are often ordered from low functioning to high functioning. (1 lowest- 5 highest)

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

Page 7: Art Therapy Autism

Common ASD Behaviors

• Repetitive tendencies• Obsessive-compulsive • Aggression towards self or others• Withdrawal due to over sensory stimulation

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

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Major Deficits or Difficulties in ASD




© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

Page 9: Art Therapy Autism

Major Treatment Goals of ASD Children

• Abstract Thinking (Imagination)• Regulation and Integration of Sensory• Help Creative Expression• Developmental Progress and Growth• Recreational Skills• Visual/ Spatial Deficits

Page 10: Art Therapy Autism

Objectives of Art Therapy

Interventions • To focus on Communication, Imagination,

and Socialization• To address behaviors without pressure• Foster strengths and abilities• Adapt to child’s functioning level• Allow choice for child• Design groups to develop social skills &

friendships• Most Important: Creative Expression

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

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• 1:1 attention allows for more in-depth work

• Establishes trust

• Can aide in assessment

• Can help with individual needs and skills

• Useful in creating and enforcing behavior plans

• Allows for socialization

• Challenges child’s abilities

• Builds coping skills

• Can make use of skills developed in 1:1 AT

Individual and Group Art Therapy

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

Page 12: Art Therapy Autism

Individual Art Therapy with ASD Child

• Build relationship• Assess behavior and sensory

issues• Create sessions in a structured

manner• Incorporate Behavior Plan• Allow for creative choices• Use strategies for transitions

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

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The Non-Verbal (or lower functioning) Autistic Child

• Meet the child at their level• Reflection and mirroring• Learn how they communicate • Use the materials to help

communicate• Assess their tolerance and adjust style

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

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Art and Play Materials

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

Materials Psychological

Pencils and pens Control

Crayons and markers Organized

Paint, glue, water play Emotional

Play dough Regression

Clay and modeling Regression or Mastery

Crafts, collage, building Mastery

Dolls, play sets Imagination

Games Social & problem solving skills

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Group Art Therapy with ASD

• Establish structure to session• Have appropriate ratio for function level• Incorporate a theme• Allow for flexibility-go with the group• Make it fun and social• Reinforce good behavior and model for others

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

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Group Session Example

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

• Theme: Friendship

• Directive: Create images related to friendship, friends, and children. Group project will be included and “working together” will be encouraged.

1) Table: Have children sit at table and introduce theme/project. Show pictures related to friendship and see verbal and non-verbal reactions to photos. Have children create their own “friendship” collage using cut out images of people.

2) Mural: Help children trace each other’s hands onto colored construction paper. Describe how their hands will be the leaves of the friendship tree. Allow children to also use crayons and other mixed media to help fill in areas of the tree.

3) Free art time: Offer children paper dolls, markers and/ or model magic to play with back at the table; emphasizing the friendship themes and encouraging them to “work with a friend”.

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Goals and Outcomes from Session

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

• Children will continue to learn about “working together”

• Children will continue to learn social skills and group awareness

• Children will experience the sensory aspects of collage and texture

• Children will have choices and be able to express creatively through the mediums offered.

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Group Artwork

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann


Collaborative Work

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Useful Resources and Websites•••• Betts, D. J. (2005). The art of art therapy: Drawing individuals out in

creative ways. Advocate: Magazine of the Autism Society of America, 26-27.

• Betts, D. J. (2003). Developing a projective drawing test: Experiences with the Face Stimulus Assessment (FSA). Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 20(2), 77-82.

• Henley, D. (2001). Annihilation anxiety and fantasy in the art of children with Asperger's Syndrome and others on the autistic spectrum. American Journal of Art Therapy, 39, 113-121.

• Kellman, J. (2001). Autism, art, and children: The stories we draw. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey

• Martin, N. (2009). Art as an early intervention tool for children with autism. London: Jessica Kingsley.

• Martin, N. (2008). Assessing portrait drawings created by children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 25(1), 15-23.

• Miller, E. (2008). The girl who spoke through pictures: Autism through art. London: Jessica Kingsley. (Illustrations by Kim Miller)

© 2009 Pamela Ullmann

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© 2009 Pamela Ullmann