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Family Art Therapy and the Child with Special Needs

Family members are not independent of one another. We need to view the family as a part of a system of specified relationships, adopted roles of behavior and unconscious and conscious rules of communication. In the case of a special needs child with limited communication skills, it is even more important to identify the dynamics of the family.


Sometimes there are difficulties that arise within a family, especially if there are extra behavioral challenges that the child is having. Stress levels are more elevated and this does not help the child or the other family members deal with the current issues. The parents may fight more or there may be less communication happening to solve the problems at hand.



Traditional talk therapy for the family with a special needs child may be limited and leaves that child out of the session. However, this may be necessary if the issues are more adult specific, such as marital issues and in that case couples therapy would be helpful.


However if we want to assess how all the family members are working together along with the child with special needs, we may need to develop creative ways to help that family interact. By bringing a family together and creating a mural or a joint art activity, the art therapist assess the dynamics. It can also facilitate awareness about each member regarding family roles, alliances, communication patterns and ultimately recognize how the child with special needs fits into this equation. We may need to ask: Do they baby the child? Do they ignore the child when things are too overwhelming? How do they include their child with the rest of the family?


Gaining this awareness can facilitate the family members to not only recognize the patterns of existing behaviors and relational issues but can also empower the members to identify how their special needs child is affected by all these influences happening at home.


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