Sometimes You Don’t Need to Speak to Be Heard: Art and Autism
Our ability to communicate verbally is something we often take for granted. We seldom consider how hard it would be to express ourselves without speech. Even more rare is how often we consider the fact that for some, this life is a reality. One of the indications of autism is impaired social communication, meaning people on the spectrum cannot always express their wants and needs effectively. One third of people with ASD are nonverbal, but communication does not always have to come verbally. Even without spoken language, individuals with autism can engage with the world in their own distinct ways. Studies show that art programming can help individuals with autism overcome this hurdle, and that is why SNACK is proud to offer art as part of SNACKtivities
WATCH: See Some of Our Artists In Action
Art is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about ways to help special needs individuals express themselves, especially since the notion that people on the spectrum are “uncreative” is still a major misconception. In fact, many people with ASD have an incredible affinity for visualizing thoughts, or “thinking in pictures.” So why must those with autism translate these visual thoughts into verbalizations to explain their worlds when visual communication comes so much more naturally to them? Art can be a comfortable way for people with ASD to communicate thoughts and feelings without words.
Along with increased self-expression, self-esteem, and social behavior, art can have a host of other hidden benefits. Making art is composed of many more tasks than just the completion of a single project. It requires many little decisions such as what to create and what materials to use, along with the actions of finding materials, working on the project, cleaning up after, and sharing the art with others when its finished. If the project is based on a task, it could also require following all the directions correctly. These simple actions all aid in developing self-management and organizational abilities, focus, cognition, and increasing imagination and symbolic thinking.
WATCH: SNACK teams up with Josephine Herrick Project for Photo Art Class
Hands-on art can also help individuals with autism hone their fine motor skills, visual-spatial discrepancies and hand-eye coordination. People on the spectrum can have varying degrees of difficulty with fine motor skills that may include anything that relies on using small muscles in the hands. It’s also possible for art to help increase tolerance for unpleasant stimuli and channel self-stimulating behavior into a more functional and creative outlet. An enjoyable activity such as art creation makes it easier to tolerate textures and smells an autistic person might otherwise avoid. Repeatedly confronting the stimuli can help desensitize them and help them cope with similar unpleasant sensations in everyday life.
SNACK*’s understanding of the importance of self-expression, confidence and skill learning for special needs children has lead it to incorporate art classes into its Snacktivities. SNACK*’s art classes emphasize collaborative theme-based projects, focus participants on appropriate use of different media, hones fine motor skills, and allow teens to take pride in the finished project.