Art therapy?

Question:Hi, I work with emotionally disabled children and children with Autism from ages 3 to 5. This year I will be conducting art therapy lessons with the kids. Since I'm pretty new to the field I'm open to any suggestions and help offered by more experienced therapists. Do you have any ideas for specific art activities that will be exciting, stimulating and appropriate for their age range? I aim of course looking for whatever is novel to them and will prompt them to get their hands dirty and work on their motor skills and imagination! (Also, any refrences are helpful...)Thank you!

Answers:
I used to put on a holiday carnival specially designed to appeal to, and address the needs of, children with autism. I found that the projects that most appealed to them were those that did not require rigid adherence to specific "rules" or methods in order to be successful. For instance, we allowed them to make picture frames with popsicle sticks, glue/tape, and stickers. Some kids liked to completely cover the wood with stickers so that no stick showed through. Others only wanted green stickers, and wanted them lined up "just so." Stil others didn't want their sticks to cross or overlap at the corners - they wanted them to only touch one another at the edges, and so on. The more flexible the project was, to accommodate each of these idiosyncratic ways of viewing it, the more successful the project seemed to be. We had a digital camera and color printer set up so that we could take a photo of each child, print it out, and put it in the frame once it was finished. This worked well with all but one child, who did not want his picture taken. When we asked him what he wanted to put in his picture, he said "Santa," so we drew a picture of Santa and put that in, instead.

Also, one of the things my own daughter (who has autism) loved to do was mix colors. We started with the primary colors (red, yellow and blue), just food coloring in water in a clear container. Then, she practiced pouring a little of each into other clear containers - red and yellow to make orange, red and blue to make purple, and so on. She loved it so much, in fact, that when we tried to get her to do other work, we used repeating this little "experiment" out as her "reward" for finishing other assignments!

As a counterpoint, those projects that absolutely were NOT successful were those that required a specicfic attention to detail in order to turn out properly, and/or did not have any immediate gratification/pay-off built into them. One in which salt, paste, and some other household items were used to make snow appear on dark paper was a total bust because a) the ingredients needed to be applied in a specific way, and b) they needed a certain amount of time in which to "react" and cause the snow-like appearance. If a child got impatient and put the salt on first, or did not want to wait for the crystals to develeop, or put too much water on, or something, the whole project was off. We also tried to get the kids to lie down on butcher paper so we could trace their bodies, and let them fill them in. They didn't want to hold still to lie down, didn't feel comfortable with others getting so close to their personal space in tracing, and, I think, felt pressured to put the right features in the right spots on the finished products and so became very frustrated with the whole process. So I would recommend staying away from anything like that.

Anyway, hope this helps. Good luck!
I may not be a pro in this field but you have stumbled into was once a dear hobby. Psycho-physics is the area of science you are about to explore. Though the material has greatly expanded since it's inception the father of these concepts is Theodore Gustav Fechner. The basic concept behind the idea of such therapies lies in the idea that for every physical stimulus received by the body there is a corresponding emotional response. This response is both quantifiable and qualifiable by scientific standards.

For more modern data on the direct application of visual art your best source will actually be advertising and marketing companies. Providing they will surrender some data you will be able to analyze how specific colours stimulate and manipulate emotional states. Even the tone and brightness come to bear.

Personally my experiments delved into acoustics but the eye being a more dominant sense you should have little trouble finding ground work.

There are two basic forms the application you are attempting will take.

1) Observational: (This will be where the ad data is helpfull) The subject is exposed to different meidums of visual art. The subject's emotional state can be noticibly altered relative to the individuals link to the content of the artwork. specific colours and tones have a relatively common effect on the human psyche (allowing for cultural differences). Intensity of colour brings a more dramatic effect. Exposing the subject to art in this manner can be used to nuture specific emotional states.

2)Participation: The subject is provided with materials to construct a personal artwork. This can aid in the development of cognitve abilities and stimulate self confidence as well as creativity. Individual subjects will respond differently to different mediums and this should be considered when seeking significant results.

I can't tell you what to expect from you clients but be prepared for varied results. Individual responses should remain relatively constant (allowing for the occaisional bad day).

Allow your charges to select which medium suits them best. Good luck with the endeavor.

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