Art therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Art therapy works with children on the autism spectrum in a variety of ways. All forms of expressive therapy are beneficial when working with children on the spectrum; however, art therapy is particularly useful because it addresses the primary deficits in communication and spontaneous imagination.

Creating a painting or making a drawing is an act of communication, because when an image is created it is expected that others will be able to understand what it is and what is trying to be communicated in some way.

In early intervention, art therapy can be utilised to increase a child’s basic engagement with others, as well as building their motor skills and visual spatial skills.

Engaging in art therapy can provide an opportunity for social communication with peers and adults. These skills can also be used with older children who have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), addressing other areas such as sensory processing, increasing verbal communication of feelings and needs, and social communication.

If you are parenting a child with autism, art therapy can assist your child helping them build life skills, while promoting healthy self-expression.

Some ways in which art therapy is useful to children on the autism spectrum include:

  • Enhanced communication through creative expression
  • Improved imagination and greater abstract thinking
  • The ability to build stronger relationships, while encouraging children them to see other people’s perspectives
  • Greater emotional and sensory regulation, which has a positive impact on behaviour.
  • Greater sensory integration, while improving coping skills
  • Enhanced development, while building visual/spatial skills

In a world that may be confusing and overwhelming, art can provide a problem-solving solution that better suits their thinking style.

Art therapy can begin as early as the age of two or three. Children with ASD frequently have sensory problems, and tend to like routine. During school holidays the child can become very frustrated because they are not getting the structure they need. Daily structured play with activities to do that will keep them stimulated is an ideal way to help cope with being on holiday.

Below is an activity that can be easily done at home.

Playdough sculptures – Playdough is a great sensory material, which makes it perfect for structured, sensory and pretend play.

The following recipe for playdough is simple and natural:


  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ cup table salt
  • 1 tbsp cream of tartar
  • ½ cup warm water


  • Mix flour, salt and cream of tartar together.
  • Slowly pour the water into the flour mixture, stirring continuously until combined.
  • Knead until the flour is completely absorbed. If dough is sticky, add more flour.

Favourite, natural food colouring can also be added to the water.