Art Therapy Activities for Autistic Children

By sandra.caplesc…, 7 January, 2022
Child painting with lots of colors.

According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy for children with autism is a risk-free form of expression. Since most autistic children think visually, art therapy helps them improve their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing by resolving conflicts and problems, managing behavior, and reducing stress. Through art therapy, autism symptoms can lessen. 

What Is Art Therapy?

For some people on the autism spectrum, art is a medium that encourages them to express themselves. According to the art therapist, Theresa Van Lith, children on the spectrum are visual thinkers, so art is a natural way to communicate their feelings. Drawing, painting, sculpting clay are perfect examples of art activities that will help a child with autism grow emotionally without feeling restricted.

How Is Art Therapy Used with Autism?

One of the most common goals of art is to increase tolerance to unpleasant stimuli through sensory integration. People with autism may struggle with external stimuli, often leading to meltdowns. Art helps channel self-stimulating behavior into creative play that is enjoyable to all children. So, when a child works with paper, he can get used to the strips of paper and will eventually become desensitized to similar sensations, making them more bearable in daily life.

Some of the benefits of art therapy are:

  • Talking is not necessary to communicate. Instead, the communication is done through creative expression;
  • Eye contact is not required or expected, and the basis of therapy is acceptance and non-judgment;
  • Improves imagination and abstract thinking, and the art materials encourage great sensory experiences;
  • These creative activities allow the child to learn new things in comprehensive ways;
  • Enhances the autistic child’s ability to build stronger relationships by seeing other people’s perspectives;
  • Participation does not depend on cognitive abilities because art therapy has flexibility in the way it does things;
  • Enhances emotional and sensory regulation, which impacts a child’s behavior.

Great Child Art Therapy Activities

A good art therapy session begins with a positive attitude. The therapy shouldn’t focus on the visual aspect of the final products but the child’s effort. To do so, you must create a space with few visual distractions and no electronics. The supplies should be in good condition and easy to access.

You can begin art therapy at the age of two or three. Art provides a problem-solving solution that suits your kid’s thinking style. It’s vital to work closely with an art therapist, but you can also actively work with your children at home to help them expand what they’ve learned in the therapy session.

No matter why you chose art therapy, here are some suggestions for sensory-friendly art activities for autistic children to kickstart their creative journey.

Mandalas

Mandalas are circles drawn in repeated patterns. It’s supposed to represent the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. Drawing mandalas is suitable for creating calm energy, promoting focus, and regulating emotions and the nervous system. After drawing them, the child is asked to color them however they like. Here is an example you can try! 

Ice Cube Drawings

Paints are usually used to create fantastic art, but for many kids with ASD, this can be an uncomfortable experience. Many art therapists include paint brushes with long handles, allowing the child to not physically touch the paint. To make ice drawings, you can mix acrylic paints with a small amount of water, then put the mixture in an ice cube tray. You can place a popsicle stick in each of them so you can allow your child to create great pieces of art.

Make Masks

You might not believe it, but decorating a mask helps us explore different aspects of our personalities. Sometimes, a child can unconsciously create something that reveals feelings that are usually hard to express. You can make the masks out of paper or give your child a premade one, and they can embellish it however they want.

Using Q-Tips

Using Q-tips to paint is perfect if you want a fun activity with less ‘mess.’ The child can apply paint in controlled lines, dots, squiggles, and it helps them develop fine motor skills. The creation depends on your child’s level of imagination, but you can consider adding a background.

Sand Art

Sand is very therapeutic for children with autism spectrum disorder, especially those who often engage in restricted and repetitive behaviors. This is the perfect activity because the child can peel sections that introduce them to new colorful layers that they can mold into shapes. Sand also encourages social interaction, and one study suggests that a 10-week sandplay program increased verbal communication. Here's a kit you can buy. 

Family Sculpture

Clay or playdough is an excellent sensory material that encourages children to use their imagination and promote social skills. It’s the ideal activity for sensory and pretend play, and you can involve the whole family to contribute. The size, shape, and arrangement of the sculpture invite conversation. You can easily make playdough at home. You can even make scented playdough that is familiar and to your child’s liking.

Not Just a Box

What can you do with a single cardboard box? It’s easy: anything. You can turn it into a firetruck, police car, drive-in movie theater, or a car wash. It’s only limited to your imagination. Your child can help paint outside the box, draw the necessary details—any idea is welcome. You can also incorporate other play materials and toys to make it more believable. Try this craft kit!

Ripped Paper Collage

For this, all you need is glue, paper, or drawing tools. Ask your child to write or draw their worries or any feelings that make him angry on a piece of paper. Then tell him to tear up the paper into tiny pieces. Afterward, you can use the pieces of paper to make a collage or any other piece of art that makes your child happy.

Sensory Bottle

Sensory bottles are valuable tools for calming children with autism. These tools can help them deal with self-regulation, but they can also be a fun activity. You can put anything you want into a sensory bottle, and they are a fun craft activity for your autistic child. This activity helps your little one develop language and fine motor skills.

Read: How to Make DIY Sensory Bottles.

Use Nature as Inspiration

Nature art for autistic children is beneficial. Nature is all around us, so working with natural materials helps soothe children. It grounds them. Besides, there are many beautiful things you can work with to make bracelets, sun-catchers, or beautiful weavings.

Art Therapy Is Helpful

Many decades have passed confirming the usefulness of art therapy and how it enhances mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. It helps build the life skills that a child with autism needs. Unfortunately, 1 in 54 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and early intervention can significantly improve outcomes. Art is highly beneficial for children with autism because it allows them to express their thoughts and feelings freely.