Notes on Outcome-Based Evaluation of a Social Skills Program Using Art Therapy and Group Therapy for Children on the Autism Spectrum (Emmett)

Many curriculums being tried within therapy programs have not been tested or examined to determine which is the most effective for children with ASDs; however, the evaluation of such programs is needed for evidence-based practice. This study is a response to the necessity for an increase of outcome-based research that analyzes the effectiveness of therapeutic programs for children on the autism spectrum (Epp 27).

The characteristics of ASD are difficult to identify because the exact mechanism of social interaction skills is not known. Characteristics of children with autistic disorders vary, but some of the qualities include a tendency to withdraw from social contact and an increased sensitivity to crowds as well as an increased sensitivity to stimuli in general, such as sounds, smells, and tactile materials (Epp 28).

One of the reasons that individual therapy has been used most often thus far is the lack of available groups of children suffering from P D D with whom to work (Epp 29).

To complicate matters, many social skills deficits are due to emotional or behavioral causes, not neurological conditions. Therefore it is contraindicated to group children with emotional disturbances (ED) with children with ASD. Although the issue being addressed for both groups may be social skills, the origins of the deficits are different (Epp 29).

Grouping these children together can result in a situation in which social “aggressors” (those with ED) are grouped with social “victims” (those with ASD), making it difficult, if not impossible, to create a safe environment for therapy and learning (Epp 29).

Because school staff know that grouping children with ED with children with ASD would be detrimental to the latter population, they are likely to under-treat autism rather than to risk subjecting a child with ASD to an abusive environment (Epp 29).

Art therapy is particularly ap- propriate for children on the autism spectrum because they are often visual, concrete thinkers. Art therapy as a component to social skills train- ing may increase the willingness of children to participate because art is an activity that they fmd acceptable (Epp 29).

Art therapy offers a way to solve problems visually. It forces children with autism to be less literal and concrete in self-expression, and it offers a nonthreatening way to deal with rejection (Epp 29).

A technique already widely used among therapists who teach social skills to children with autistic tendencies is the use of comic strips as teaching tools. Comic strips are drawn by the teacher and then “taught” to the children, with discussion and analysis ofthe portrayed events. Children who are visual learners take in this information in a way that stays with them. For example, learning about conflict between people by seeing it drawn in a comic strip is more ef- fective with children on the autism spectrum than is learning about it through a theoretical discussion, and it is less threatening than role playing (Epp 30).

Art therapy need not be restricted to comic strips. Art can be explored in many forms, including drama and music. The concrete, visual characteristics of art help these children, who often experience anxiety in social situ- ations, to relax and enjoy themselves while they are learning social skills in the carefully controlled environment of the therapeutic group setting (Epp 30).

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