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Consensus-based Typical Elements Of Art Therapy With Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders

13 September 2019

In this study by Celine Schweizer, Erik J. Knorth, Tom A. van Yperen & Marinus Spreen, typical elements of Art Therapy with ASD diagnosed children are specified and validated in a two-round Delphi study with 19 art therapists and 10 referrers...



Children with autism are often referred to AT for a range of problems. Their self-image and self-esteem is often low. A lack of flexibility often appears in daily life and at school. Also these children often have difficulties in expressing themselves. These problems have consequences for their social behaviour.

The art therapist facilitates and supports the child to express him or herself. Behavioural changes are expected to be achieved by experiencing art materials and making personal art work. Development of emotional, cognitive, social and physical functioning is stimulated. The nonverbal character of AT can offer an opportunity for children with communication problems.

Knowledge about the effects of art therapy with children diagnosed with autism is mostly based on practice experiences. Scientists, policymakers and a growing number of art therapists feel the need to expand this knowledge. Clarifying typical elements in art therapy that contribute to treatment outcomes are important as a vital step towards extensive research on the effects.

In two former studies, typical elements in art therapy with children diagnosed with autism were identified in practice and in literature. The current study is aimed to investigate professionals’ consensus regarding these typical elements. Referrers and art therapists have been invited to give their opinions: do they concur with the previous findings?

There is consensus about typical elements for art therapy with children diagnosed with autism in five areas: (1) the problems that lead to children with autism being referred to art therapy; (2) art materials and forms of expression; (3) the handling of the art therapist; (4) contextual issues (such as duration of the therapy, and involvement of parents and teacher); and (5) criteria for treatment outcomes.

The results of this study will be applied as building blocks in further planned research into the effects of an AT treatment programme.

This article by Celine Schweizer,Erik J. Knorth,Tom A. van Yperen & Marinus Spreen has been published online here

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