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Art Based Therapy for autistic children – how it heals

Give your children emotional support if they lose faith in their ability to learn, or get frustrated.

Heard about the new ABT for autism? Here is what you need to know about the therapy and how it can help your child.

Written by Debjani Arora |Updated : April 2, 2015 10:33 AM IST

World Autism day is on 2nd April 2015.

A neurological disorder like autism is difficult to deal with for most parents. But perseverance, patience and affection can help one wade through the crisis with some ease. While dealing with the diagnosis of autism, a subjective approach for treatment through various therapies become imperative, and it helps channelize the brain of an autistic child or treat children suffering from autism spectrum disorder. Till date most specialised educators and therapist vouch that relationship integration program and applied behavioural analysis were the apt therapies to treat autism. However, in the recent times Art Based Therapy is gaining a lot of prominence in the area of treatment for autism. Here are the other treatment options for autism that you should know about.

How Art Based therapy helps to treat autism?

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Autism Art Based therapy is beneficial for children suffering from mild to severe form of autism. Since no two children suffering from the condition are the same, the therapy needs to be modified and tailor-made. Some children suffering from autism might have compromised verbal skills but good grasping power while others might be very hyperactive, needing auditory stimulation to get going. So it is imperative for a special educator to gauge the need of the child and provide therapeutic help, informs Sonali Mahendra Nalawade, special educator autism spectrum disorder, Autism Child Development Centre, Mumbai. Here are six tips for parents with a special child.

Art is therapeutic in nature and connects with one's cognitive and subconscious mind and hence aid in healing. Art Based Therapy or ABT is a non-verbal form of therapy which helps an autistic child to express and communicate through art. Autistic children cannot communicate like others. So art becomes the medium of communication. Children express their feelings like fear, happiness, sorrow and anger through colours and art. However, this therapy is not just limited to colours and paints it also takes into account mental stimulation through meditation and auditory stimulation for better verbal communication. Depending on the skills of a child, capabilities and needs the therapy can be modified accordingly. Here is more about Art Based therapy you need to know.

What is the module like?

ABT is based on the understanding that each person possesses intellect, body, emotions and subtle energy fields. Each of these dimensions is created in alignment with the individual s purpose in creation. There is a definite method or approach that we follow in ABT, but we don t restrict ourselves with the module. In fact, most of the time it is moulded in a way to help heal the child rather than out a pressure of performance. The therapy encompasses five components meditation, warm-up, actual activity, de-rolling and closure. However, these components can overlap during the course of the therapy or a session, informs Sonali. Here are some alternative approaches to treatment for autism.

Here is how a session of ABT is for an autistic child is like:

1. Meditation: The ABT therapy starts with meditation. Unlike others an autistic child cannot swiftly move from one activity to the other. This is the sole reason why meditation needs to be incorporated in the start of the therapy or the session. However, meditation for special children starts with music, like simple chants or rhythmic recitation of ohm. Music has a healing effect on everyone s mind and it helps calm the mind and get into a receptive mode to carry on with the therapy, says Sonali.

2. Warm-up: Next, we move on to a warm up session which includes some physical activity like exercises to establish a mind-body connection. For instance, if I have in mind to help a child draw a triangle or a circle, then I would help the child draw a circle or a triangle in the air using his/her arms. Or make him jump on three corners of the room trying to explain the concept of a triangle, explains Sonali.

3. Actual activity: The next thing would be to get down to the real activity, that is, to draw a triangle on a paper and paint it with the thumb. There can be one or many triangles drawn. The colours will help to relax the nerves and communicate with the world in their own little way. Depending on their mood they might pick up a somber blue or a happy red. We allow them to take their time and get engrossed in the activity, says Sonali.

4. De-rolling: After a while it s time for de-rolling or unwinding, which is again a methodical approach to revise the entire activity of the session.

5. Closure: The last phase of the therapy aims at teaching the child some basic mannerisms like relationship integration, saying thank you or bye to the therapist, because for a special child you cannot take these things for granted, and have to ingrain it in them through the therapy. However if the child still remains hyperactive while reaching the end of the session we resort to music again to calm the nerves and help him/her move out of the hyperactive mode. Sometimes helping a child go to sleep with music on during the closure phase also helps, says Sonali.

Is the approach same for every children?

AutissmThe five phases would remain same for every special child undergoing the therapy but their needs might differ. If say, a child has compromised verbal skills, then the approach would slightly differ. The actual exercise might have a lot of verbal stimulation. For instance, telling a story of a crow, sparrow, dog or a cat. The therapist might need to enact like the said animal and make the noises while encouraging the child to do the same. This calls for some work because the therapist also needs to be on her toes all the time. This kind of exercise also helps calm a hyperactive child, because when you start to enact an animal, hop, jump or run it calls for a lot of physical exertion that ultimately tires the body and helps us to move to the actual painting and drawing session, says Sonali. Here are 10 things a child with autism wishes you know.

No matter how the session has to be changed or molded to meet the need of the child every session has a stipulated time for drawing and painting, voice exercise, physical movements, storytelling and drama informs Sonali.

How does it help in learning and development?

Art gives the child the freedom to explore and express themselves without any boundaries of verbal expression. No formal training in any art form is required for a person to experience a session. What is created at the end of an ABT session is not important but the process of getting in touch with your inner self through the art forms is what is important.

How long does one need to take the therapy?

Most children with mild autism gain a lot of self control and can manage life to a certain extent as they grow up. However, with most differently abled children this therapy can help on a day-to-day basis. Since each case is unique, it is best to discuss the time frame of the therapy needed with the therapist. Parents should know that it takes time in case of an autistic child to respond to therapies; therefore stopping a therapy mid way would do more damage than good. So it is imperative for the parents to follow the routine diligently and be patient to see results.

Image Source: Autism development centre, Mumbai

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