5 reasons why art therapy is effective for people on the Autism Spectrum

Client engaging in art therapy
Contributor: Krishna Ogwaro

Art therapy has a unique ability to help people on the Autism Spectrum. Find out more about the ways it can benefit now.

What is art therapy?

Art therapy in its simplest definition is expressing yourself through art, for our physical, mental, emotional and also social and cultural (including spiritual) well-being. Unlike regular art class, art therapy combines the process of healing through engaging with materials and expression of what one is thinking. Here’s how it can help:

  • Body: Art therapy involves our senses – sight, touch, hearing and smell. The act of coordinated movement, seeing and feeling with our senses during art making helps regulate heartbeat, breathing, and even relaxes our muscles. That is why it can feel very calming when we make art and we become more in tune with the present moment.  
  • Mind: In art therapy you can communicate non-verbally through images. This can be easier and safer to do compared to only using words, as most of our memories are stored as images. Art therapy helps us to access those memories. When you participate in art therapy, you’re activating both sides of the brain, integrating both left and right hemispheres. This helps with having more balance in our mental state and it helps to reduce stress. The arts allow us to access the subconscious memories and experiences stored in the right brain and consciously explore them with our left brain. Art therapy offers a holistic approach to healing the mind and body. 

What are the benefits of art therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder?

 Art therapy offers a unique form of support for those on the Autism spectrum by promoting communication, emotional growth and social interaction, as well as creative self expression.  It helps in the following ways:

  • Emotional Support: Art therapy teaches individuals on the Autism spectrum to explore their emotions in a structured situation. Individuals with Autism can have their emotions overstimulated at times.  Art therapy helps participants to identify trigger situations and develop coping mechanisms in the presence of an experienced Art Therapist.
  • Social Skills: People on the Autism spectrum tend to struggle with socialising as they may feel uncomfortable during one-on-one interactions.. Therefore, art therapy can be a way of facilitating connections with peers by practicing social skills such as cooperation, turn-taking and team work in an enjoyable monitored setting. Individuals with Autism may also find it hard to comprehend other peoples’ perspectives, so by looking at their peers’ art work and working as a group on an art project, this helps the individual to understand other peoples’ points of view and develop cooperation.
  • Managing Sensory Overload: Sensory overload is the difficulty to process intense, multiple sensory experiences at once. Art therapy is particularly effective for managing sensory overload because presenting children with an array of different art materials allows children to interact with new textures, colours and sounds at a pace which feels comfortable for them.
  • Celebrating Diversity: Art therapy celebrates diverse perspectives, by bringing people together and encouraging people to explore and express the unique way they view the world. Everyone is special and unique in their own way and art therapy allows individuals to express their differences in a safe and happy environment.

Our therapists combine their specialist art knowledge with skills of psychotherapy, counselling and rehabilitation to support individuals with Autism to develop their social skills and emotional literacy through art making. Check out our programmes to see the group and clinical therapy programmes available. Our STARS programme is beneficial for young people and Dance 4 Us is for people aged 15 years and over.  

Krishna was a Marketing Volunteer with Dance & Arts Therapy NZ in the latter half of 2020. She holds a Bachelor of Communications from AUT.