A Florida State University researcher is working with art therapists to find better ways to treat children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Theresa Van Lith, assistant professor of art therapy in FSU's Department of Art Education, led a study that surveyed art therapists working with children with ASD to develop a clearer understanding of their techniques and approaches. The study was published this month in the journal Arts in Psychotherapy.
"I had noticed that is there is a high number of art therapists working with people who have autism, but I wanted to understand what their practice wisdoms were in terms of how they go about facilitating art therapy sessions," Van Lith said. "We want to make it a transparent process for the client or the parents of a client, so they know what to expect."
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 68 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder by age 8 each year. As that population grows, more parents and educators are seeking out art therapists to address social development and sensory issues that generally accompany ASD.
The research team compiled and analyzed the art therapists' expert opinions on topics such as what worked with ASD clients, their objectives during a session, their most preferred theoretical approach and the considerations they had to make when working with children with ASD.
"We realized there wasn't a consensus with the theoretical approaches they used," Van Lith said. "They were having to use a number of theoretical approaches together, and we wanted to understand what that would be like in practice."
While the survey results varied, the researchers were able to develop a set of guidelines for delivering art therapy to children who have ASD. The proposed guidelines will serve as a basis of successful practice for new art therapy professionals and for further studies.
"We used these practice wisdoms from art therapists around the field to understand the most effective and beneficial way to use art therapy with child with ASD," Van Lith said.