Michael came home from school with a decoupaged cardboard vase filled with handmade paper flowers. He explained to his parents that he tore strips of paper, dipped them in a glue mixture and spread them on the cardboard to make a pattern. He continued to explain how he folded tissue paper and attached it to green pipe cleaners to make the flowers. His parents listened attentively as Michael continued to chatter on about his masterpiece, what he used to make it, and how each of his classmates made theirs. While this story doesnít seem particularly unusual to most, Michaelís parents were astounded by his willingness to share so many details about his art project AND with such enthusiasm. As a child with autism, Michael usually struggled when interacting with others, hated touching anything gooey or sticky like glue, and used very few words to describe his day at school. So what about the process of "making art" fostered these changes in Michael?
Broadly speaking, art therapy promotes mental and emotional growth through the creative process. Unlike art instruction, art therapy aims to build life skills, address deficits, ease problem behaviors, and most importantly, promote healthy self-expression. Creating a beautiful work of art is not the ultimate goal of art therapy, however it often is a happy result.
Diane Hughes, Art Therapist at JB Lyndhurst, explains, "Many children on the autism spectrum have intense sensory needs. The process of making art encourages them to touch, see, smell, and hear their creations. For students like Michael, art is also a wonderful way to interact with his peers, practice turn taking, and develop other social skills in a controlled and familiar environment."
As an Art Therapist, Hughes is a licensed professional counselor with a masterís degree in art therapy and counseling. Art in the classroom here at JB Lyndhurst is more ëart as therapyí. Students needing more support are seen one-on-one where the art therapy session has more of a counseling component,î she explains. "Encouraging our students to try something new is often my biggest goal. Many times our students are limited by what they THINK they can and cannot do. By introducing new materials or processes to the kids, they are challenged to increase their creative spirits and self-esteem by opening themselves to new experiences."
As the African proverb says, "It takes a village to raise a child." Hughes is just one of the many gifted members of the Julie Billiart Schools village that enrich and support the lives of our students. Her talents and expertise enhance our curriculum so that we see, first hand, how creativity sparks the flame of imagination so that a new sense of self can be formed.
Not Just Four Our Students
Tuesday morning art therapy sessions are also offered for JB Lyndhurst parents. Supportive in nature, the sessions provide an open forum for informal conversation and networking. While art making is generally central to each gathering, "Sometimes no art is involved," said one parent. "It simply gives me the opportunity to talk to and learn from other parents that can relate to the joys and pains that I'm experiencing with my child."