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Form of Art Therapy that Works Best for Your Child

 Art therapy, also known as expressive therapy, helps clients communicate and deal with emotions and thoughts. It “combines psychotherapy, or talk therapy, with the interpretation of visual images to delve into an individual’s subconscious.” Children do not have to be creative or artistic to participate in art therapy. Some may feel intimidated by some art forms. All they need is the right supplies and the correct format to begin.

Brief Art Therapy Lesson

The term art therapy was created in 1942 by a British artist named Adrian Hill, although it was used long before a term was made. Hill discovered the benefits of art through painting and drawing while recovering from tuberculosis. Several writers in the mental health field during the 1940s began to write about their work using art therapy on patients. There was no training or programs for this therapeutic approach. They were guided by psychiatrists, psychologists, or other mental health professionals. 

In the mid 20th century, art therapy has become more of an established and publicly accepted therapeutic approach. Now it is used to treat a multitude of health issues such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity (ADHD)

Art therapy benefits people of all ages, but it can specifically benefit

  • those with learning disabilities
  • those with autism
  • those who find it hard to express emotions

Those with learning difficulties may find it hard to verbalize their feelings. At the same time, those who struggle to express their emotions can show their feelings without much verbal communication. Clients who have autism may find art therapy or creative art outlets to help distract them and calm them down.

Art therapy comes in many different forms. A therapist is trained to recognize the most appropriate tools and techniques for their clients to use to help them communicate and express themselves. There are eight main types of art therapy forms that a child could use, and that can be incorporated into their daily routine.


Painting is a common art therapy form that most are familiar with. It gives the child a free-form approach to art by creating images from a blank canvas. Painting involves using tools to help make pictures but can be done with fingers. Types of painting may include:

  • acrylic
  • watercolors
  • pray painting and much more

Note that painting may not be suitable for children who struggle with control and perfectionism.


Drawing is another commonly known form of art and art therapy. It usually involves paper and a pencil but can include other supplies such as 

  • pens
  • pastels
  • charcoal
  • crayons

When introducing drawing, remember that some children may perceive this art form as a specialized skill and may need encouragement to begin. The child should be reminded that art therapy aims not to produce artwork but to explore emotions through art.


Writing is sometimes not viewed as a creative visual outlet. With art journaling, storyboarding, and comics, more people begin to see the benefits through writing. For art therapy, a child could write in a journal and then create art on top of the journal to “let go” of writing content. If children are struggling to write, they can use keywords to solidify their overall thoughts and feelings.


The sculpture is an excellent way for a child to use their hands and bring dimension to the issues they are facing. While creating a sculpture or when it is completed, remind the child that situations are multidimensional and can be approached from different points of view to find a solution. Sculptures can be made with

  • Clay
  • Paper clay
  • Paper mache

Additional tools can include

  • Carving tools
  • Decorative items, i.e., paint, paintbrushes


Creating a collage can be seen as more of a passive type of art form than painting or drawing. A collage combines multiple items that are already created or designed, such as magazine images or word titles. This form of art therapy can be more straightforward for those who struggle with communication and making decisions. A child might find making a collage less threatening and can focus more on construction. 

Creating a collage can involve a variety of supplies such as

  • patterned papers
  • magazines
  • stamps
  • paper-based substrates
  • brayers
  • adhesive
  • pens
  • pencils
  • paints


Photography is a fun way to incorporate past memories and images on a physical or digital medium. Photos have a funny way of stimulating memories and help people relive certain events. Those same photos can be used to create a positive narrative or framework. Technology makes it easy for us to take pictures and use them right there on our devices. 


Textiles involve stuffed toys and puppets and help children who have physical difficulties using art supplies that require fine motor skills. Textiles involve using stuffed toys and puppets and add a sensory level of softness and texture and a level of safety and comfort.


Digital art is a newer form of art that is constantly developing and evolving. It can take a range of formats like

  • manipulating photos
  • creating more elaborate artistic projects using graphic software or video editing software
  • Apps for drawing, i.e., Procreate
  • Apps for coloring, i.e., Lake
  • Note-taking apps that allow you to add photos and stickers, i.e., Noteshelf
  • Journaling apps

Digital art will require a device that can handle the software or apps needed to create the art. It may also require supervision for younger children. It is a great way to look back at old artworks and see how far they have come, both with art and communications and emotional development.

Choosing the Form of Art Therapy that Works Best for Your Child

Art therapy can be done at home or with a therapist. It is essential to select the child’s correct type as some forms may negatively impact them and their progress. For example, a person who shows Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms may not do well with messy and less controllable art forms.

Therapists usually take the time to gauge the child’s interests then explore alternative options as they build trust with their child. The same can be done with parents and their children. Take note of what interests them, then find alternatives. They may like a few different art forms, and others may help them explore difficult emotions or thoughts. 


The Power Of Creativity For People With Autism

Creativity manifests itself in many ways and most people, even the most left-brained analytical person expresses themselves creatively in some way. Whether it’s through traditional means of expression such as painting, music, or poetry, or non-traditional forms like statements made in fashion sense, most people have a preferred medium to represent themselves or their feelings through. This is particularly interesting for people with autism because they often express themselves differently than their neurotypical peers. Art and expressions of creativity actually help to forge a deeper understanding for people with autism and many people use their creative pursuits to grow closer to their peers and to express their needs or decipher their own emotions.

Autism And Creativity

One of the commonalities that people who have autism struggle with is social understanding and social awareness. This has been thought of in the past as a deficiency in people with autism, as if they don’t have the ability to understand social cues or develop social awareness. We are finding out now as more and more money goes into the research for autism that many people with ASD do not have a dysfunctional social style, but one that is unique to them. This is a strength, not a weakness. People with autism are actually adept with what some call social creativity, expressing themselves differently from societal expectations. The dialogue around these societal expectations is changing and we are starting to celebrate this social creativity, rather than stifle it. Many people still believe that autism is steeped in logical processing, picturing the archetype popularized by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. While it’s true that many people with autism do find comfort and ease with logical processing, many of the people that the world has revered for their creativity have also had ASD.

Creativity As An Outlet

Creativity and expression are a cornerstone of the human experience. People with autism might think or process things differently, meaning that their understanding of creativity and imagination is not wrong, just different. It’s likely that, similar to the comfort of routine and schedule, creativity lives within a set of rules for people with autism. A person with ASD might not immediately express creativity, but if asked and directed, they may be able to generate something even more complex and innovative than anyone expected. For evidence, just look to the artistic talents of Stephen Wiltshire or Kambel Smith, the music of Derek Paravicini, the directing talent of Tim Burton and the on-screen charisma of greats like Daryl Hannah and Dan Aykroyd.

The Growing Popularity Of Art Therapy

In terms of treatment when it comes to ASD, the accepted model relies on behavior modification therapy, based on rewards and “consequences” for certain behaviors. However, therapists like the excellent staff at Lexington Services are augmenting the behavioral model with complementary therapies that support and grow understanding and independence. Art therapy is one such treatment that uses the production of art and the expression of creativity to help people with ASD process their emotions and communicate their desires, thoughts or concerns. Other programs like music therapy rely on creativity in the form of song, but use creative expression as a therapeutic tool. These therapies can help bridge gaps in communication, sensory processing and social awareness for people with autism.

Creativity In School

Taking a leaf from the therapeutic approach, many schools are choosing to include art and the expression of student creativity in their special education programs. The opportunity to express themselves or to engage with lessons brings students into the material and give them some control so they can grow. Plus artistic expression gives educators a window into the development and processing of a student through their art. Teaching and promoting creativity for communication and as a therapeutic tool can forge new connections for people with ASD and the people who have dedicated their life to affecting change for people with autism so they can thrive.

Are you looking for a great place for your student with autism to learn and make use of their artistic expression. At Lexington Life Academy, we celebrate creativity and use it as a tool to help students so they can grow. Contact our staff to schedule a tour by calling 480-900-1009 now.

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