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You are HERE >>  Learning (Dis)abilities : Autism

Encouraging Artistic Exploration and Expression*
By Kandie Demarest
October 14, 2000



*this article was first published in the Autism Support Newsletter "Harmonious Times"

   While some autistic individuals are very artistic and do most of their 
   communicating via painting or drawing, others are less drawn to the typical 
   art activities.  For these people we have to be a little more creative and 
   brainstorm a little to find interesting and altered ways of taking part in 
   art.  Here are a few of the ways I've found to help the reluctant autistic 
   person to delve into art:

    1.  Some children don't want to get their hands dirty or sticky so they steer clear of painting projects.  A fun way to encourage participation in painting is to first provide rubber gloves (like the hospital type) if they prefer and then introduce them to print making….there are some really cool and tempting ways of painting that may win over your reluctant child.  Using a train or car as the print maker put some paint in a shallow pan and drive the vehicle through the paint being sure to cover the wheels completely.  Now let your child drive the vehicle around on some paper and look at the resulting tracks left by the painted wheels! This is a fun activity that you can keep for later displaying in a frame, window or scrapbook.  It's also fun to take a picture of the child doing the project to display with the finished piece. This acts as a reminder and many times a prompt for repeating the activity.

   2.  Using marbles, golf- balls, ping-pong balls or whiffle balls as the printer cover the bottom of a cake pan with paper.  Now dip the balls in paint or simply roll them around in a paint container until they are covered. Pick the ball up with tongs or gloved hands and place them on the paper in side the cake pan.  Now have the child slightly tilt the pan or roll the balls using chopsticks or spoons.  Look at the patterns made by the rolling balls.

   3.  Some children are less likely to put pen to paper on a surface that is flat.  For a change try hanging large pieces of paper on the wall or get a white-board mounted with dry-erase markers nearby. You can find end-roll newsprint at your local newspaper business at a low price or try looking at thrift stores for unused wallpaper rolls.  These make for heavyweight extra long lasting paper for painting, and drawing and just about any other use.

   4.  Building with blocks or boxes is another form of artistic expression.  We 
keep a camera handy to capture extra-loved or unusual creations.  We display them on the art wall or in a booklet we keep by the block supplies.  (This also serves as a reminder of play choices in the future)

   5.  Water play is one of the nearly universal loves of children and even this 
activity can be turned into art we can keep and remember.  You need regular 
colored construction paper and a bowl of water and a paintbrush.  Now, let 
your child paint designs on the construction paper using the water. The water 
will darken the paper leaving drips, splashes and handprints -while this will 
only last a little time it is a lot of fun to do and even more fun to see the image disappear as it evaporates.  (This same idea works outside with paintbrushes on the dry sidewalk.)

   6.  Clay and similar sculpting mediums offer another artistic option that some people really enjoy.  Even the tactile-defensive person can find enjoyment in this sculpting idea:  Take a lid from a jar or a pie tin or other small shallow container and fill it with air-drying clay.  Now provide a variety of interesting items to stick into the clay, creating a mural or mosaic or a 3-dimensional tower of intrigue.  Suggested items: plastic gems, ceramic tile chips, pipe cleaners, colored wire, nuts, bolts, paperclips, leaves, sticks, bottle caps or anything that catches the child's interest. Finally, put the creation up until it hardens. 

   7.  Scotch tape and colored electrical tape proves to be a great creative tool for some children, my own son can spend an evening taping designs on paper and sometimes even taping toys together or wrapping chairs in colored tape.  I have an activity box devoted to just taping.  We have a few pair of scissors, scotch tape, and colored electrical tape and colored paper for his interesting creations. 

   8.  Photography proves pretty interesting and fun for many children.  I have 
found looking at the photos and videotapes that my son creates to be an insightful peak into his perception.  A video tape he made last year was full of various images of shadows, lines,  mini-blinds and close-ups of peoples faces.  It is a unique way of sharing the very different view point of the autistic mind. 

   Capturing your child's art 

My autistic son is reluctant to pick up a pencil, and even more reluctant to try his hand at drawing or painting a picture.  The few times he does write or draw something on his own it are nearly always the same thing. Creative expression in a tangible form is hard for some autistic children to come up with but we can show them an appreciation of their endeavors and a way of sharing their creations with the world by doing a few final actions to capture what they really like, whether it be marbles, splashing in water, bubbles or ripping paper to bits.  Whatever their unique interests, there is surely a way to share them in an art form with our friends and families and to display them in a proud manner on our walls, windows or good old refrigerators. 

   To capture our children's unique joys and interests:

Cut 2 equal pieces of clear contact paper and sandwich the creation - you may want to add glitter or colorful crayon shavings or sequins to add pizzazz. After sealing this, cut the edges with zigzag scissors and add a ribbon at the top for a cool window sun-catcher display.  You can also do this to make personalized placemats, book-covers, small key chain decorations or special cards for Grandparents.   This is one way of sharing your child's efforts, creations and obsessions with loved ones while helping to instill a sense of pride and appreciation in their work and play.

Submitted by:  ©Kandie Demarest 
Kandie is a homeschooling mother living in the California Bay Area. 
Send a note to Kandie

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