Art Therapy

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Art therapy uses visual art-making and the creative process to enhance the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of children of all abilities. Using simple art materials, the art therapist focuses on creative expression to develop the child’s imagination, communication and socialization skills. Children are encouraged to experience art-making by engaging with different materials. This allows them to gain insight and understand their feelings, at their own pace. Art materials that are often used include:

  • Markers, pencils and pastels
  • Feathers, chenille stems, pom-poms
  • Play dough and clay
  • String, felt and other craft materials
  • Sand
  • Shaving cream finger-painting

Art therapists have observed that art-making is beneficial to children on the Autism Spectrum due to their sensory needs, difficulties with communication and their need for more visual, concrete, hands-on therapies. Some areas where art therapy can be particularly useful to children on the Autism Spectrum include:

  • Communication through art expression
  • Imagination and abstract thinking
  • Building of relationships
  • Sensory integration
  • Developmental maturation
  • Recreation and leisure skills
  • Visual/spatial abilities

As many children on the Autism Spectrum tend to be more receptive to information that is experienced visually, art therapy may increase their willingness to engage because it does not rely primarily on words to communicate feelings and thoughts. This enables children to be heard on a new level of communication. Having fun and engaging in this experience can ultimately help regulate the senses, emotions and behaviours.

Previous experience with art is not necessary to benefit from art therapy, although a child should be at least somewhat interested in the art-making process or the materials.


  • Emery, M. J. (2004). Art therapy as an intervention for autism. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 21, 143-147.
  • Evans, K., & Dubowski, J. (2001). Art therapy with children on the autistic spectrum: Beyond words. London: Jessica Kingsley.
  • Gabriels, R. (2003). Art therapy with children who have autism and their families. In Malchiodi, C. (Ed.) Handbook of art therapy (pp. 193-206). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Martin, N. (2009). Art as an early intervention tool for children with autism. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Helpful Links


Canadian Art Therapy Association


Autism Canada does not endorse treatments, interventions and therapies but lists them so people can make informed choice.  This site is for information purposes only and is a starting point for readers to look into options that may fit or resonate.  Remember, therapies for autism, like any condition, should be discussed with a trusted medical practitioner or certified therapist before use.

All information, data and material contained, presented or provided here is for general information purposes only and is not to be construed as reflecting the knowledge or opinions of Autism Canada, or as providing legal or medical advice. All treatment decisions should be made by the individual in consultation with a licensed health care provider.

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