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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Creative Arts and Autistic Children: Opening Pathways to Expression and Communication

Aug 01, 2015 03:28AM ● By Mimi Lagana

One of the biggest challenges that young children with autism have is communication The creative arts can significantly impact the lives of children with autism. One of the biggest challenges that young children with autism have is communication. A picture-to-word system called Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is one tool used to teach non-verbal children with autism how to better communicate through line or picture drawings. The visual depiction of things in the world help these children to understand the world and names of the things around them.

However, there is much more to line or picture drawings – or even photos – for these children. Some will automatically want to start drawing and writing letters and words for the first time even if they cannot speak. This is a major accomplishment of interest and can eventually transform into verbal language. Use of a white or black board at home with markers or chalk to draw with can open an entire new world of communication and understanding for these children.

Many children and adults with autism also have extraordinary gifts in the arts. For example, Iris Halmshaw ( from Leicestershire, UK, was featured by CNN for her artwork. Even though Halmshaw does not speak yet, she was already recognized and revered at five years old as having Monet-like talent in painting.

Another UK artist who did not speak as a child and was diagnosed with autism is Stephen Wiltshire. He started drawing at age five. In addition to his works being internationally recognized, they are published in several books. He also has his own art gallery in London’s Royal Opera Arcade. One of his drawings of New York’s Manhattan skyline is 18 feet wide and was completed in three days after he was taken on a helicopter ride around the city.

In her Drawing Autism book about autistic artists, Jill Mullin put together a compilation of autistic artists from around the world. In her forward, Temple Grandin writes that her mother “nurtured her artistic ability” and that she was “encouraged to draw many different subjects.” Grandin later went on to design and draw elaborate dipping vat systems for animals and credits her drawing experience in helping her to achieve that. She is certainly one of the most well known autistic adults in the United States.

The art pictured in Drawing Autism clearly shows that individuals with autism are much more aware of the world around them than most people think. When the autistic artists were asked what inspired them to create their drawings, paintings or poems, the responses demonstrate acute awareness at multiple levels of cognitive understanding. Some of these artists even draw, paint and write about their own social frustrations of being different or even misunderstood.

It is not only in art that children with autism have gifts. Music is another creative area in which some have extraordinary abilities. For example, even though Derek Paravicini is considered autistic and is blind, he is a musical genius playing complex piano compositions by only hearing a piece of music one time. As a child, he played music with the Royal Philharmonic Pops Orchestra in London.

While not all autistic children display extraordinary creative abilities and talents, many of these children can benefit significantly from the creative arts. More importantly, art can make a big difference in developing communication abilities. Art can be used as a potent motivator for communication and used as a way of expressing oneself. In looking into the future and the use of art with children with autism, it is easy to imagine these individuals being able to get employment not only as artists, but graphic designers who might do card, logo and advertising design as well.

Mimi Lagana is a life transformation coach who has a son on the autism spectrum. She is originally from Manhattan and resides in Greenwich. She can be reached at 203-964-7231. See ad, page 7.