Life In Full Color: How Arts And Crafts Can Help Kids On The Autism Spectrum
With nearly 1,000 children in South Dakota diagnosed on the autism spectrum, centers such as the Museom of Visual Materials which celebrate visual arts can be really valuable outlets for their self-expression and creativity. Arts and crafts have been shown to boost children's confidence and independence, which can greatly encourage those with autism, as well as providing support and friendship for their parents and carers. Creating a comfortable and safe environment is key, as is choosing projects which are multi sensory and rewarding to create.
The joy of creating together
Research has shown that creative projects can be particularly fulfilling for children on the autism spectrum because they stimulate the senses, show cause and effect and offer an outlet for non-verbal self-expression. They can also provide a non-pressurized environment in which conversation can come naturally if they choose, but with the focus being on the task at hand rather than the social interaction. Finally, the variety of textures at play in craft projects - from sand to water, pipe cleaners to buttons - can be soothing and absorbing. So where do you start?
Expect and embrace sensitivities
For creative projects with any children, arguably the most important step is the preparation. Children on the autism spectrum may be particularly sensitive to noise, perceived lack of order, or certain sensations such as scratchy materials. You should also be allergen aware, as recent research suggests that children with autism may be more prone to allergies. To create a space in which they (and their parents or carers) can immediately feel safe and comfortable, try to remove potentially harmful toxins and establish a natural, calm environment. Use chemical-free cleaning products to reduce allergic reactions, find out about any food allergies in advance, and try to avoid highly sugary foods, additives and colorants as these can cause hyperactivity. If you are well prepared, the children should also feel at ease.
For children who want to explore texture and sensation, finger painting is a great place to start. However, some children don't enjoy the sensation of the paint directly on their hands. Using washable paint and latex (or non latex, if your child is allergic) gloves can help with this; plus it saves a lot of scrubbing later! Making your own edible versions of store-staples such as playdoh and sand for sand art can also be a really worthwhile use of your time; children can be tempted to try and eat these substances, but if you have made your own you can relax that it’s not harmful.
Finding opportunities for children on the autism spectrum to express themselves freely and have fun is a really important part of stimulating and caring for them. Creative projects are a great way to do this as they can explore different textures safely and easily, and feel a great sense of satisfaction when they complete their work of art. Attending a class or workshop is also a valuable time for you as a parent, guardian or carer to immerse yourself in a creative space too, and maybe even make some new friends. Embrace life in full color.