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McGrath Art Therapy
Positive Change Begins at Home

Autism and Art Therapy

Today, over 1.5 million Americans are affected by Autism, affecting 1 in every 94 boys and 1 in every 150 girls. According to the Autism Society of America, Autism is a complex developmental disability that is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. Autism is a spectrum disorder that affects each individual differently and at varying degrees.

Art Therapy is integral to helping a child with autism. One of the many specialized intervention programs, art therapy helps children express their feelings and explore their creativity.

In the following case study, you will read about “Robert”. He created his artwork while working with James at The Sarah Dooley Center for Autism in Richmond, Virginia.

Robert is an 18 year old who is diagnosed with Autism. He enjoys math and is able to complete up to 3 digits addition and subtraction and this can be used to regain control. Robert is able to tell time to the minute and can use this skill functionally when told that an activity will be happening at a certain time. He can read most short passages without any assistance and is able to answer questions about a passage with 70% accuracy when questions are in written format and he can fill in the blanks. He can complete 1 or 2 step vocational routines with minimal assistance for the duration of the task. He often chooses not to participate in activities and prefers to be away from others. However…he loves art!

I would work with Robert for 1½ – 2 hours once a week. He liked to begin with a snack. Then he wanted me to show him picture books with short stories that would serve as an inspiration.

He was always more interested in the pictures than the story. Robert would then pick an image from a book that he wanted to copy. Sometimes he tried to copy all of an image and at other times only parts he considered important. Robert preferred to draw in pencil and then color the images using fine point markers.

Most of the art work that you see took him between 1-1½ hours to complete… with no breaks. He worked very hard and was very single minded in what he did. Even though Robert began by copying an image he always finished by making the image completely his own through his unique vision, style and eye for detail.

Over the course of our work together, Robert would look forward to our sessions and he enjoyed interacting with me while creating his beautiful works of art.