Those of us who have children with ADHD or have worked professionally with children with this disorder know the challenges of trying to engage them in an activity that they can sustain AND use their minds purposefully. I have both; a son with this disorder and I have had clinical cases with this disorder. As a parent of a child with this disorder, I know that giving my son opportunities to build his self-esteem is a very important aspect to sustainable focus. In other words, when the child can gain mastery in a particular activity, their confidence builds and hence they “stick with it”.
The arts can be a great vehicle in this endevour. Engaging in creative activities such as art, music and dance have been shown to help children with ADHD calm down because it utilizes the part of the brain that controls emotions. When the emotions are under control, the focusing can be much easier. Most of us have experienced this; when we are upset about a personal issue….isn’t hard to concentrate at work? So, therefore reaching the emotional brains through the arts can infact increase focus.
Basically, children with ADHD find it difficult to slow down their minds and bodies in order to concentrate on basic activities. When use art based activities, we usually see a shift in mood. The creative mind helps most children (and adults) get to a focused state of “being in the flow”. If we in fact find the right fit of a creative activity, we can truely help the child with attentional issues have a fuller experience of engaement as well as see them feeling happy and confident.
For similar reasons, children suffering from other anxiety based disorders and issues can also benefit from creative activities and art therapy. When they become involved with expressing their feelings in a creative way, they are too busy and focused to be concerned about negative thoughts, the passage of time, or other distractions. Of course , this does not happen right away……we must build trust and assess the develolmental level of the child in order to offer the right approach.
I beleive in a flexible structure based on the needs of the child. Some children with ADHD will need more more breaks, specific times to complete a task, reminders about impulses and behaviors, etc…. Overall, the benefits of art therapy are the ways in which it can access the right brain and allow the child to be in the creative process; even within a structured environment. In addition when working with several children in a small group, we can involve cooperative art making which enhances social skills and communication; all things that children with ADHD can use.
Things to keep in mind:
1) Allow for choice and try to find something that interests the child
2) Limit the amount of art materials that are offered- it can over stimualte the child
3) Create structure for the child such as time limitations, behaviors that are not to be tolerated and scheduled breaks
4) Use praise when child completes the task, prompt child to remain on task when distractions take over
5) Encourage expression about feelings; acknowledge when they are frustrated and support their process