This research paper is the result of my own personal struggles in trying to better manage and improve
the quality of life for my daughter Claire, and being a single parent trying to achieve the long elusive
Bachelors degree. One of the constant road blocks in the years since my divorce were the recurring
safety concerns over incidents against Claire such as being spit on and rocks thrown at her . Sometimes
she even targeted by groups of children and taunted on the playground because of her interaction
The interaction challenges are due to the fact that my oldest daughter is Autistic. Her place on the
autism spectrum is the kind of Autism that school professionals have high hopes for her to make a
decent recovery to a functional life with enough intervention. My challenge was learning to trust the
current school district and find more effective ways of expressing my concern about what I was seeing
from Claire on the home front without putting the school district on the defensive.
Since moving to Elma I have connected with other parents of children with special needs facing the
same kinds of challenges. Communication difficulties between parents and the school system happen
frequently on how to best open up new path ways of learning for the children and cross support the
interventions on the home front and vice versa. The rapidly increasing numbers of special needs
children have put a strain never before experienced on school budgets.
The American School Systems are run in a linear based fashion. This type of classroom management
is extremely difficult to survive for children with unique learning styles , socially as well as academically.
The simplified explanation of theory for social skill building is that eventually these children’s brain will
develop the neuro- pathways to develop the abilities needed to adapt to this method of learning.
My hope by writing this is to be able help other parents and school systems more effectively
communicate. This new area of dialogue will hopefully open up new cost effective intervention
strategies that can be synthesized at home and on the school front . Therefore strengthening the
opportunities to support these unique learners to the life they are the most capable of living.
How can art be used to help people with emotional and comprehension processing delays resulting
from neurological disorders such as autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (Pervasive Disorder) Background Information-
Some experts consider autism a neurological disorder caused by a combination of genetics,
weakened immune systems and childhood immunizations manufactured with a mercury preservative.
Heightened physical sensitivities are compounded by increased usage of pesticides
in food production. In addition the Bush administration lifted the ban on genetically modified foods
without knowing the dangers . (Future of Food, 2007) These combined conditions have left our children
facing challenges of epidemic proportions, and our school systems with limited resources to meet the
growing demand of the increased population of special needs children.
Daily functional challenges can by hampered by emotional, physical, and medical conditions.
Outbursts can be triggered by the body’s inability to naturally detoxify. In addition the absence of
beneficial bacteria in the digestive process can make normal body functions difficult. In certain studies
active measles bacteria has been discovered in the intestinal lining.(Autism Gut Brain Disorder article)
All these conditions make good dietary practices and supplements of pro biotic, vitamins, and enzymes
crucial for maximum brain and body function. (Carthy, 2008)
Individual challenges of Autism
Sensory Perceptions challenges:
These individuals are prone to sensory issues. The overloading sensory messages can come from
smells, visual, tactile, and sounds. Listening can often be challenging even though the person can hear
quite well. The hypersensitivities can make following thought processes of the classroom more difficult.
Concrete thinkers: People afflicted with this disorder are very literal in the thought processes.
Interpreting social cues as well as certain relationship interactions can be difficult for this thinking style.
Ideas can quickly be taken out of context. They approach problem solving from the outside in. This
means that these unique individuals look at the whole problem and take random sections of the
problem and fix small portions of the issue until it is solved. Linear thinking main stream class room
environments are exceptionally difficult.
Sensory Issues: Sensory challenges can affect an individual’s ability to function within a mainstream
fast paced environment. Hypersensitivities can exist in hearing, sight, or touch. For example in certain
cases hypersensitive hearing conditions can exist where individuals lack the ability to filter through noise
and focus in on one sound.
Comprehension Delays: Processing delays compounded with hypersensitive sensory issues to
sound or light can cause significant comprehension delays for people afflicted with this type of
neurological disorder. A traditional linear thinking main stream classroom at times can be impossible
to manage without the benefit of a classroom assistant.
Concentration difficulties: The delayed processing issues compounded by some of the above
listed challenges can make concentration difficulties over whelming.
Social Interaction difficulties – All the above listed challenges compound difficulties in
interacting with the people around them. In main stream environments children, have a tendency to
shy away from the affected individuals. Good planning by the classroom teacher is required to help
other children accept and appreciate differences. 
Children and adults on the high end of the Autism Spectrum are considered most of the time Gestalt
Learners. This is a right brain dominant individual who approaches problem solving from a holistic
perspective. The right conditions needed involve visual, tactile, and auditory combinations for success
in the learning environment.
“Theories of multiple intelligences,” was first introduced by Howard Gardner in the early
- This theory although controversial as it may seem to factor more specific categories that
fit the different learning strengths of individuals on the Autism spectrum. Some of the categories
included with in Gardner’s theory include: Bodily –kinesthetic, naturalistic, visual/spatial and savant
The controversial aspect of Gardner’s theory is in how people are determined to fit into the learning
classifications. A self scored test is administered to the classroom of learners to make
the determination of the relevant intelligence category. Opponents of this methodology feel this is
insufficient data to make an effective determination and is more based in intuition.
Bodily-kinesthetic: The use of muscle memory and being actively engaged in the whole
environment of learning helps people on the Autism Spectrum. This is also demonstrated by Temple
Grandin. The Bodily-kinesthetic process of walking though the environment combined with
her visual processing perceptions make her the leader in this field.
Naturalistic: People on the Autism Spectrum who think in pictures are more apt to notice the
slight weather changes to a certain region or forest ecological growth , and animal migration patterns.
This skill can be highly useful in forest restoration projects or supporting the preservation of animals
covered by the endangered species act.
Visual: This portion of the theory is widely criticized by many experts who dispute this
separation from math reasoning. For individuals on and off the autism spectrum that begin the thought
process by detailed visual observation this concept does not require much explanation. The visual
sensory 3D process of being able to run though the functioning of her slaughter house design but has
difficulty in number manipulation is proven by Temple Grandin.
Dr. Temple Grandin is an associate professor at Colorado University. She is a leader in understanding
of animal behaviors. Do to her unique perspective and visual processing from Autism the redesign
revolution of more humane slaughter houses began. She is also world renowned author and advocate
of issues on Autism.
Savant Syndrome: Weak in Social Skills but remarkable abilities in other areas such as
photographic memory used to create art, ability to make new scientific discoveries. Particularly gifted
in the spatial intelligence abilities with the ability for scientific application for a paradigm shift for
problem solving abilities. (Wikipedia)
What are some teaching methodologies for people on the Autism Spectrum?
The teacher in a general education setting has many obstacles to help special needs children.
as well as guide the rest of the classroom in learning new concepts and inspiring them to understand
new challenges. Teaching to multiple learning styles can be difficult with the many different
cognitive abilities. The accessibility of resource room teachers helps customize the learning for specific
Cognitive functions give a person strong or weak learning abilities. A cognitive processes involves a
combination of sensory, reasoning, and memory thought process for the brain to understand new
learning concepts or respond to social interactions. The physiological sensory components that help
gather information are auditory, visual, tactile processing. Sort term and long term
memory abilities, comprehension, and reasoning are the part of normal part of brain processing
Small groups or one on one instruction have been found to be the most effective for teaching children
with Autism Spectrum Disorder. There is also a strong need to eliminate the environmental triggers that
would overload the sensory issues so children can stay on topic. That way the focus is on what the
children can do instead of what they can’t do.
Educational Kinesiology- is the study of movement as it relates to brain integration and the application
of the learning process. (Envisioning a Brighter Future pg 281) This concept was first introduced by Dr
Paul Dennison. He first became interested in how difficulty in movement correlated with a
person’s learning ability. The 20 year of field of field observation resulted in the development of the
Educational Kinesiology Theories’ . Then he and his wife established Educational Kinesiology
Foundation in Southern California. He developed programs like Brain Gym and Pace that are used in
some main streams school today.
Individuals on the Autism Spectrum have repeated difficulties in different aspects of movement. Any
performance art that could activate an interest in Brain Gym type activities would strengthen physical
coordination. Involvement in some type of performance art such as dance would support an interest in
physical movement. This option might also take away any feelings of self conciseness.
Definition of Intelligence has grown substantially in today’s society. The means of expressing learned
knowledge and understanding can be expressed in a multiple of ways. Individuals such as Temple
Grandin has demonstrated remarkable abilities by being able to think outside the box. This new
perceptive approach empowered Temple Grandin to revolutionize an entire industry as well as changed
our understanding of animal behaviors and communication. In addition the understanding of thinking in
pictures and the ability though art of words helped us as a society to understand the abilities behind the
label of Autism.
…. A human being is part of a whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison…
Sometimes it is us as a society that has enclosed individuals with special needs in a prison of sorts or
an isolated island with a large mote in the middle of a large busy city. Art is a tool or a bridge for
individuals with special needs to bridge the isolation, loneliness, and depression. Art creates an
alternative language it is up to us to recognize the meaning it might hold.
Art is important for several reasons to individuals on the Autism Spectrum. One of the more important
aspects stated by the authors of self guided art therapy books is the ability to self direct the processing
of emotional events. This self initiated desire and willingness opens the path way to free form thought
development. These emerging independent thinking skills open the door to creative problem solving
skills. The independent thinking skills begin to emerge though out the daily life processes.
The art of drawing is also an indirect way of communicating with the world around the individual.
Benefits of drawing alone can strengthen fine motor skills and concentration. Drawing can also be a
method of discovering spatial awareness and texture. These types of observations are observed
through the different patterns in Claire’s drawings.
What I have noticed is the need for Claire to first create picture art to tell a story and then writing
sentences to go along with the story underneath. This demonstrated thought pattern process shows
her ability to understand writing concepts being taught in school but needing to add the drawing as
her step in describing her idea. This process in story writing development is very visual thinking
Could a kind of picture art program be created to bridge the communication delays and sign language
is to individuals with hearing impairments.
In cases of extreme communication challenges the intervention skills that staff and parents try to
initiate can be loaded with frustration for the child as well as the caretakers. Parents and school
personnel for trying to see some understanding, forward progress, and growth to keep hope alive to find
a solution to unlock the barriers that hamper the potential for some better quality of life. It can be
frustrating for the child having the inability to reciprocate the communication and express feelings of
joy, sadness ,or pain.
In the book, “The Cure Within,” summarized the healing needs to start with individual. One of the
main points of the book emphasis the individual need for validation, appreciation, and not being
isolated and art bridges the gap and strengthens the understanding. The communication barriers often
associated with different developmental delays can be emotionally frustrating and are often causes of
depression within the special needs community. Art such as drawing can give all individuals the ability
to express feelings , knowledge and understanding. The different art modalities of Classical,
Performance, and Craftsmen can extend and strengthen skills of individuals with various
developmental challenges. We as a society need to pay attention and validate this form of expression
Classic Art– Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture support social emotional processing, strengthen fine
motor skills, and introduce basic math reasoning. These activities also support stronger feelings of self
worth and give individual a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Performance Art – Dance and Martial Arts: Education Kinesiology is a theory that is
supported by various types of dance movement. School intervention activities with the occupational
therapist strengthens large and small motor function. This interconnected activity strengthening
brain and body function will also in an indirect manner strengthen the school intervention on the speech
Puppetry: In order for children with Autism to be successful learners they need to
be taught to the specific learning styles of a partial cylindrical or fragmented holistic approach. Also
needed for maximum success is a multisensory opportunity for involvement for maximum
understanding to be successful. Having children with Autism act out social situations could be open a
new level of understanding.
Craftsman Art – These activities support concentration, large and fine motor skill
coordination motor coordination, and basic math. Craftsman art such as wood working and metal
smiting can introduce basic concepts ofl material science and structural design concepts.
I am a single parent of two wonderful, smart, beautiful daughters. In some respects they have become
my greatest teachers about myself. The fact that two sets of eyes are always watching my actions and
mimicking all that I do, has made me think twice about my actions in daily activities. Since they have
been born the meaning of life has become so much greater. The meaning of being a parent has
brought a deeper meaning to life is about.
Claire was diagnosed with Autism in Kindergarten. It was evident that while she attended head start
that she stood out in her unique approach to learning. One of her favorite activities was studying the
mechanical function of toys. Group play for her was impossible. Often because of differences the other
children were quite mean on the play ground physically and socially. The individuals that were the
easiest to interact with for Claire were adults. Her learning style is a combination of a cylindrical process
with a need for multi sensory interactive approach for the greatest success.
Since the four years of her diagnosis she has endured much adversity in trying to acquire the skills to
survive in a main stream environment. The quality about her that I admire the most is she never quits
trying. Often when she get off the bus the difficulty of the day is reflected in her inability to
interact and needing an extended time on the computer or watching DVD movies.
During the course of this project I saw some hesitancy in Claire trying new art projects even when the I
emphasized there are no rules. I wondered sometimes if it was a lack of self belief in her abilities. The
abstract collage project presented her greatest challenge. She finished her project by wrapping it a blue
camouflage material and gluing it shut so little of the actual art was visual.
My younger daughter Linda is my five year old going on twenty five. Her willingness to try new
activities is unending. Her perfectionist approach to projects gave her finished results that she was
always proud of. She loves to play and is reading already. She has appointed herself the family
nurse. The nursing profession has become one of her lifelong ambitions along with an interest in
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond
measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, “ Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually who are you not to be?” Marianne Williamson…..
My goal as a parent is to help my girls live up to the above listed quote. It is clear to me now that art is
a method of enhancing my girls awareness of the authentic changing self. A healthy balanced life needs
to include that time for creativity and reflection. Art seems to be an indirect way of strengthening the
child’s individual voice.
It is clear early on in the project that I am just beginning to learn that my daughter is
instinctively using art to process the day to day experiences that are challenging. Currently her art
methods of choice are drawing on printer paper and the paint shop program on the computer. Claire
also has an intense fascination with what goes into the movie making process. This also has wakened
an interest in Photography. Finding a easy to operate point and shoot needs to be a goal. I did purchase
two small point and shoot digital cameras. Misplacing the program disk hampered the ability to down
load the pictures. The camera was also inadequate for the girls to view pictures taken at the Seattle
The first involvement of using art therapy as a self initiated healing process was during the course of
this project . The girls’ Great Grandma passed way at the beginning of the quarter. This was the first
experience of death of a person they knew. Most of the first few days were spent drawing
interspersed with moments of tears. The pictures became the words that they could not express. The
drawings also showed me how they were processing the loss. Though the transformation from person
to angel in all the pictures the constant was the smile of Great Grandma Helen
During the course of the project Claire was slow to warm up to try different art. Linda my younger
daughter was eager to engage in new experiences and willing to jump in and try. A significant
improvement in family quality time started to occur. I needed to question myself as to whether this art
topic was something the girls wanted to explore or was it about my interest.
To introduce the sewing machine to the girls we took the team approach. One operated the foot
pedal with the other feeding the material though the sewing machine foot. Both girls participated in
cutting squares. The sewing project brought an intense interest for Claire. With hearing protection on to
address the sound sensitivities she self initiated the process of trying to operating the machine and
sewing patches of materials together.
This type of project supports several different aspects of child development. Fine motor skills are
Strengthened in cutting and designing project patterns. This is also an interesting way to exercise hand
eye coordination. This craft is also the very beginnings of mathematical reasoning, design theory as well
as space awareness. Kinesthetically children are also introduced to different textures and material
In Temple Grandin book, “The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships,” she explains the social and
emotional aspects are two distinctively different aspects for processing of people on the Autism
Spectrum. This emotional processing is what parents are faced to deal with when the children come
home out of sorts from a trying or stressful day. When parents try to communicate these concerns to
the school they can be brushed away because the behavior is not witnessed by school intervention
specialist. Unfortunately the need for synthesis on the school and home front is desperately needed for
the greatest success of children.
The process of Art being introduced into the family evening routine as a self guided means for stress
release has a positive effect. The time around the table working on project development opens the
door to communication of the day’s events. This type of activity indirectly strengthens school learning,
creates greater self awareness, gives a finished project to be proud of, and gives an additional avenue
for self expression. The act of holding a completed project gives children with various learning delays a
measurable accomplishment that they can see over time.
During the course of this project I met parents and professionals dealing with different aspects of
the Autism spectrum.
Professionals showed a caring nature but had different motivations and interest. The different
approaches to trying to assist the parent of these special needs children will achieve different long term
results. One psychologist strongly believed in medication to achieve the desired developmental
response from the child. This psychologist didn’t take in to account the environmental impacts and the
sensory triggers and was strongly opposed to Bio Medical interventions. The other psychologist was
willing to let the child be the guide to the world of Autism. This approach is more time consuming but
the psychologist becomes a guide for the child to help direct a healing for with in the child.
Art added into the daily lives of the families with special needs children would be open up to a type
of healing that transcends any challenges that may exist with day to day management challenges. For
us , the time for making art was a type of equalizer, ( in some aspects my 5 year old is exceeding the 8
year old and that becomes frustration on both ends) it gave my daughter something concrete to focus
on that could include all of us and the difference and delays disappeared. The developmental and
comprehension challenges disappeared. We had fun.
Art also support an increased chance for the desired development of neuro pathways in brain
development sited in the many interventions used by the schools intervention specialist. This type of
program can be an invaluable tool by parents to cross support what the school doing during times of
The Rating is from (1) to (5) with one being the least useful and (5) being the most useful.
(5) Malchiodi Cathy A, The Soul’s Palette, Shambala Publications Boston & London 2002
Author background information: Advanced certifications in Expressive Therapies and Author of Several Books.
This book is intended to give a lay person self guided direction on the benefits of creating art to help in reconnecting with the soul as well as emotional healing… The authors supports this reasoning with documenting personal accounts on how she used art in her own life to process traumatic experiences such as 9/11….. She also cites client cases on how art helped begin the healing process. One of facts the author stresses is being guided by intuition. This book helped me understand the best way to initiate Art Therapy is though a self guided intuitive process.
(5) Harrington, Ann: The Cure Within, a History of Mind Body Medicine. W.W. Norton & Company New York * London 2008
Author Background: Professor at Harvard University, Department Chair of the History of Science. This Author has written previous books on brain functions.
Book Summary: This book is about the western evolvement of mind body medicine starting with scientific laboratory testing in the 1950’s to ending with an in-depth look at Buddhism meditative practices 2007. The author cites scientific testing and laboratory approaches to studying the physiological approaches to stresses as well as large scale human survey’s and the results. The author in the process of writing this book brings up several key points of the human needs to be connected to a larger sense of community and the initial skeptics of the scientific community of the validity of this approach. This book helped me understand sometimes healing can come from inside by intuition.
(5) Notbohm, Ellen: Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Know. Future Horizon Inc Texas 2005
Author Background: Mother of Autistic Child. BA in Sociology, Published Author of other books on Autism, writer for Autism Ausbergers Digest.
Book Summary: This book breaks down the 10 most common challenges that children with Autism face. This book explains to the adults on what often times gets missed over looked or actions that may get overlooked. This booked helped put into word format the observations I had already been noticing and bridge the gap of understanding between the school district and the psychologist.
(5) MC Carthy Jenny: Mother Warriors. Dutton Publishers 2008
Author Background: Actress, Advocate, Author and Founder of Operation Rescue. Strong Catalyst in Networking Autism Organizations and main streaming information on treatments of biomedical approaches to recovering children from the Autism Spectrum.
Book Summary: Jenny McCarthy personal journey of helping her son overcome the challenges of autism and be healthy. She openly discusses her own feeling of wrestling with the personal guilt over her sons Autism. Interspersed with her own journey are also interviews done by her of people also with loved ones on the Autism Spectrum. The detailed sometimes painful and sometimes joyful story of recovery stories are compassionately covered in pages of this book. This book also documents in her own candid experiences in trying to get the word out on mainstream media and the positive results of Bio Medical Treatment options and Dietary changes that can help improve the quality of life for individuals on the spectrum. This book helped me to understand and connect with other parents in similar situations. Reading this book also helped me feel gratitude that the situation wasn’t worse.
(2) Education students with Mild Disabilities: Love Publishing Company Denver Colorado 1998
Author Background: None Editors on listed
This book isn’t really relevant to Autism. This book focuses more on ADD and ADHD. The writing style also takes a more traditional regimented scientific approach to classroom management that doesn’t leave room for much practical application to unique individual needs of children. This book wasn’t as helpful for the fact that it didn’t address Claire’s situation. Also the cold clinical hard scientific approach left out the whole child.
(5) Lewis, Doorlang: Teaching Special Students in a General Education Classroom Setting: Prentice Hall 1999
This is Text book for General Education teacher. The book includes differences between main stream and Inclusion. Included in 5th edition of this book are updated federal regulations on special education. References are also given to the challenges of special needs family and reservations they may have in involvement in the IEP process. This book also gives ideas on how to teach children with special needs in a main stream classroom setting. This book helped me understand the basic fundamental aspects of what the ideal classroom situation should be.
(5) Lemer, Patricia Editior: Envisioning a Brighter Future Intervention that Work for Children and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Optometric Extension Program Foundation.
This book is a collection of articles written by professionals in different aspects of intervention responses in the field of Autism. This book covers many intervention techniques. This book introduced me to many new types of treatments options. In the aspects of this project the concept of Education Kinesiology.. It introduced me to a new understanding of the correlation between learning and neurological processing of environmental triggers.
(3) Pitts, Carl Editor: Operant Conditioning in the classroom: Crowell Company 1971
This book gives an introductory theoretical approach for behavior conditioning in and out of the classroom for teacher. The most interesting reading for me was Chapter 1 when the book raised the question, “What is intelligence and the criteria society measures that demonstration of unique expressive intelligence abilities. The chapter also addresses the history of IQ testing and the pros and cons of such a system.
(5) Article: Current Education Systems: Helping or Hindering to our Childs Development, Internet Search
Author Background: Michele Wolhuter is a Health Care Practitioner of 12 years and Instructor at The South African Institute of Cranial studies. This individual has also done independent research of issues of children’s health care.
Article Summary: Explanation of the brain functions of Gestalt Learners. He gives a easy to understand explanation of the brain development and when right brain and left brains are typically supposed to develop. This article for me brought up more questions than answers. I didn’t want to get to side tracked from the project or art and how the brain function could possibly be engaged.
(5)Wikipedia: Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardiner.
General Back Ground Information on the theory that Gardner developed that most effectively addresses the theory of the learning styles of People on the Autism Spectrum
(5)Carnahan, Christi, Shobana Musti-Rao, and Jody Bailey. “Promoting active engagement in small group learning experiences for students with autism and significant learning needs.(Report). .” Education & Treatment of Children. 32.1 (Feb 2009)
General Back Ground Information: Over view article on the success rates for stimulation learning for children on different points on the Autism Spectrum. The article gives suggestions on different options of incorporating music, visual cues, and interactive reading material. Specific studies within the article are listed were significant improvements are cited for improvements are appropriately documented for supporting the theories of this article. This article was helpful was very helpful because it accurately describes the various types of learners on the Autism Spectrum.
This article explains the basic concepts of cognitive learning styles. It is also an introductory article for a learning support method that is available for parents.
 Ten Things Every Child with Autism wants you to know.