Consider the power of a paintbrush: the soothing touch of
textures, the creative outlet of color. More and more, that
paintbrush is helping children cope with the emotional and behavior
problems that come with their special needs, particularly those
with autism, Asperger's and ADHD.
"With autism, it's about making a connection," Alyssa
Kulak-Harris, executive director of Brickton Art Center,
says about art therapy. With artwork based on each child's
abilities, the goal is to help children feel a sense of
accomplishment with their art.
"Nothing is open-ended and art projects have a definite
beginning, middle and end," she says. Projects may include
stringing beads on pipe cleaners and adding Styrofoam shapes to
make free-form sculptures or putting glue on paper, sprinkling it
with salt and allowing the child to manipulate the materials so
watercolors dissolve into an explosion of color.
For those with Asperger's, Kulak-Harris has had much success
helping them create comic strips about their struggles. Especially
effective with bullying issues, she says these comics are used to
start a conversation and become powerful vehicles of
Ember Burke of Park Ridge credits art therapy with helping her
6-year-old son, Brendan, who has a rare chromosome abnormality that
causes severe cognitive delays, limited language and seizures. He
has participated in art therapy through Brickton at Have Dreams in
Park Ridge the past three years.
Through art therapy, Burke says she has seen Brendan connect
better with others. He talks, socializes and takes part in pretend
play more often now, she says.
Lesley Hawley, clinical director of Children's Home + Aid
Rice Child and Family Center in Evanston, says art therapy also
offers benefits to those with ADHD, behavioral and mental health
"Children who have ADHD have a lack of detail, get distracted
and lose their interest," Hawley says. "They get frustrated and are
unable to follow through when things get difficult." Hawley has
seen structured art therapy calm them so they can finish their
Hawley likes to use an "inventor" project to help children with
ADHD. She gives them an object they must use to create their
Structured art therapy has long been used to help children who
have experienced extreme trauma, abuse and neglect.
Lucy Latourette is a freelance writer and mother of two.
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