Here is my answer to the question asked of me this week by a University of Arizona student for her research paper:
All children receive many benefits on multiple levels from art education whether they are on the autism spectrum or not. However for the autistic child art education is vital for their growth and development. Autistic children learn best when learning is visual and by making learning fun. Besides being a tool for helping the autistic child express themselves the Arts and Music are also a multi-sensory experience engaging the student with all of their senses; visually as well as through touch, smell and sound. Teaching must be creative and any subject can be taught using art as a tool, including the maths and sciences.
How does art education most benefit the autistic student?
I would say that the healing aspect of art is most beneficial in that it develops the inner realm of the child and will help them discover who they truly are and how they fit into the world around them. Art will help them gain self confidence and self esteem which will benefit them for the rest of their lives. They often get the message that they are different, have a disorder, have an ‘incurable disease’, that they don’t fit in socially to the mainstream. Children with autism are just as much a part of society as so called ‘typical’ kids especially nowadays there are millions of children world wide being diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Art will help them feel connected to the world around them and to the people in their life; their family and peers in and out of school. Art is therapeutic in and of itself because it is heals on every level physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
A lot depends on how art education is taught. When the teacher can encourage the students and allow them freedom of expression they can play a positive role just as a negative critical teacher can discourage self expression and turn the student off art and make them feel inadequate or shamed. It is necessary therefore that the teacher nourish there own creative expression so that they can be in a better position to help the autistic child with theirs. It is important that the teaching goes both ways; that the student learns from the teacher and the teacher must also learn from the student.
Of course the autistic student will learn basic skills like listening and following directions and using materials properly but the child with autism often does not or cannot understand words so as a teacher you have got to communicate what you want them to learn in other ways. The teacher has got to be creative in getting across the lesson in creative ways other than verbally. If the student has not got the lesson then you have to find another way to get the lesson across.
If you have another question or comment please send it to me below or the Contact page. Enjoy…Caroline