Reading material- Art as an EI Tool for Children with Autism

Thanks to the library, I recently read the book  Art as an Early Intervention Tool for Children with Autism by Nicole Martin.   Ms. Martin has a younger brother with autism.  She was trained by a behaviorist as a young adult to work with her brother.  As an adult she is an art therapist working with people on the spectrum.

The first chapter describes autism.   If you are like me and have read tons of autism books, this chapter seems unnecessary.  She does offer good descriptions of scripting (echolalia), perseverating and stimming.   I think my favorite part from this chapter is:  Children with autism hear “no” a lot from adults; helping them find ways to express and develop their talents lets them say “yes” to themselves.

She discusses how humans seem to have a natural tendency towards making art, and reasons that there is no reason to think that people with autism would be any more or less interested in art making then their typical peers.   She also mentions that symptoms of autism such as hyper focus or tactile defensiveness, can make it appear that the individual on the spectrum is not interested.

Ms. Martin outlines what she calls basic assumptions that  she writes need to be understood before using art as an intervention tool.

The adult is not “fixing” a child’s artwork, but using art to “fix” parts of the child that can be best engaged using art

The art itself (the product) is not as important as gaining the self-discovery, experimentation, tactile tolerance and so on (the process) that is required to make it.

Skills such as imagination and creativity are worth rehabilitating in children with autism.

You must believe that creativity can be learned.

The author describes “good scribbling” (focused, contemplative, experimental, sometimes even chaotic) and “bad scribbling” (symptomatic). She provides some really useful illustrations and easy to understand descriptions of children’s art development using the theories of Victor Lowenfeld and Rhoda Kellogg.

The author gives a number of good tips to help a child with autism move beyond scribbling.  She suggests reinforcing any scribbling or attempts at art work, but to give extra praise and reinforcement to attempt that are the best, or exhibit experimentation and variety.

Visual supports are also another tip- drawing a circle or line on the page can help jumpstart a drawing.  When a child puts art tools in their mouth she suggests offering an appropriate chew item. (I can attest that this works).

She also suggests that the parent (or therapist) make art along with the child.  She offers the idea of copying what the child is doing.  I found it really useful that she says the parent should attempt to draw at the child’s level, and to model appropriate scribbling and early drawing.  She mentions that a higher skill level can fascinate and frustrate a child with autism.  This reminds me of what John Holt wrote in How Children Learn, about how children lost interest in activities in which he clearly knew more then they did.

Ms. Martin lists nine autism symptoms and the corresponding artwork characteristics.  It is an interesting way to look at it.  One of the symptoms is sensory issues and the characteristics are – use of materials for self stimulation, tactile defensiveness and art material’s impact on regulation.

She also lists six major goals for children on the spectrum that can be best addressed using art.   One of them is sensory regulation and integration.  She writes Some children on the spectrum get “stuck” in the kinesthetic feeling of using art materials and are slow to move into representational work.    Her suggestions are to become aware of a child’s reactions to different textures and to take control of art activities.  She also suggests activities that create artwork using the entire body like tracing and masks.  I would have liked to read more details about how to work with this.

The author details what she calls tools of the trade, describing paints and other art materials.  And she also gives tips for providing the optimal environment for creating art, what she calls a quality art experience.  She writes An individualized directive with least invasive prompt possible is my personal rule of thumb when working with a child with ASD.  She gives a very good and detailed description of prompt hierarchy, and shows her knowlege of ABA with suggestions for problem behaviors and reinforcements.

Reference: Art as An Early Intervention Tool for Children with Autism by Nicole Martin, (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009) Pages 25, 30, 31, 41, 59, 73, 113