Parents with Autistic children want to do everything they can to protect their child; especially when it comes to social situations. They avoid putting their children in circumstances that are frightening to their child. However, setting up a child in a therapeutic program that provides social opportunities will help them learn and grow. It is important to make sure that the providers of these programs are trained and know how to work with Autistic children. More “social kills” groups are immerging and parents need to choose the ones that are best for their child’s interests and developmental level. If your child is interested in art, music, dance, or sports choose the activity that will engage them into participating the most.
Art Therapy can provide children with opportunities to build social skills in addition to exploring their senses and creativity. When designed appropriately, a group session should include a playtime or circle time where they will be able to learn to make friends and how to interact with others. During the art making as well as the sharing circle, the therapist may need to “prompt” the children to share their ideas, pass art materials and show the work that they completed. After a few sessions, the goal would be: less prompting and more spontaneous sharing and socializing with one another. Art making is also an easy and non-threatening way to connect with peers; especially when a group project is presented. Children learn to cooperate with one another by making choices as a group.
Many children on the autism spectrum have difficulty when it comes to understanding how another individual feels. This may influence how they are able to interact with others and respond appropriately. One way to help them with this is to use and/or make picture cards of characters with different facial expressions and body language. The more they learn about these “cues” the more they will be able to interact better. Since art therapy is a visual modality, many signs, symbols and visual prompts can be made either for or with the children to help maintain positive behaviors. When behaviors are in check, openness to socializing increases. Some helpful visual aids for both verbal and non-verbal children include: a group schedule, pictures of art materials (PECs can be used), various tasks and behaviors.