What is art therapy and how can it help your special child, by Cheryl Scott, MS LMHC.
Cultural use of art was once universal. Primitive cultures left behind pottery shards exposing designer curves. Jewelry was carved onto statues bearing the fashions of the day. Swords are found with beautiful metal work and embedded with jewels. Self expression of scribe personality is seen in glyphs etched into walls and obelisks. Histories were passed down in song, music, and even dance. Our ancestors were not only involved in beautifying their present lives, but they also demonstrated a propensity to be concerned for the after life and crafted beautiful spiritual objects and places. Once upon a time art was not separate and special but entwined into ever fiber of everyday life of every person living.
In our modern world we relegate art as an adjunct and separate part of life. For our children we might find art in a course at school or perhaps crammed into a doctor's office on a corner table with a box of broken crayons and torn scribbled coloring books. Why does our modern culture separate art out from life when clearly our ancestors knew we needed art as much as we needed food. Our ancestors nourished their entire being--body, soul, and spirit. What ever the reason for modern cultures to separate out art, we as parents, need to bring it back to the lives of our children.
My definition, therefore, of art therapy is a process of introducing art into a life--and focus the art where it is needed most. When a special child is disconnected from the world because of problems with language acquisition, or motor skills which are underdeveloped, or some sensory element is damaged or overly stimulated. Art can function as a natural method to help connect. Art therapy can help a child communicate. Art therapy is useful to help express pent up emotions. Art therapy is useful to help calm down or focus. Art therapy lifts depression and helps reach the inner spiritual self.
There is no restriction or limit to what we can use art therapy for. What and how we use art therapy is only limited by our creativity and education. To start using art therapy with your child you will need to begin to exploring different art styles and present these options to your child. Presenting different options allows the child choices. Having choices in which type of art you would like to do is wonderful for a child that may have little choice in most areas of their life. Art can provide new experiences and allow experimentation of one's self.
To begin the process of using art therapy with your child you can enlist the aid of a licensed art therapist. This link takes you to The American Art Therapist organization.
Other art therapists may be located through your school system. Ask your child's art teacher for names of therapists in town that use art and therapy. Ask the guidance counselor's office if they have some names or programs your child can join. Ask for art adaptability seminars to be offered at your school for parents and teachers alike.
For more information on art therapy visit The US National Arts & Disability Center, The British Art Therapy Association, Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association, The Canadian Art Therapy Association, The Israeli Association of Creative and Expressive Therapies.