In Tzippy Silberman’s art therapy classroom, students do not have to color inside the lines. In fact, they are encouraged not to. At Shema-Kolainu Hear our Voices School, children work in small groups as well as one on one to create instructive works of art.
Students might work in traditional watercolor like you would expect, but they also break the mold by making plaster masks, building wire sculptures, and using mixed media for starters.
The program is tailored to areas where students need improving. For many, creating art with others is a social activity that requires communication. A fun group activity is puppet making, which facilitates play with the child’s peers.
“Art increases socialization and helps the kids express themselves.”
There is also an emotional connection to art for some of the children. They sometimes use art to calm down while channeling their energy on something enjoyable. The children even learn to label their emotions through their art, making pictures to describe how sadness, anger, or joy feels to them.
“Non-verbal kids use different devices to communicate wants or needs,” says Gili Rechany, operations director at Shema Kolainu. “They do not have a way to express feeling or emotion. Art therapy allows the child to explore their environment. The kids can communicate things they are really scared of or things they love. It is a concern because some of the kids cannot tell us what motivates them. Some of the kids love art therapy so much because they feel a sense of security. Art is a form of communication.”
They also experiment with different textures.
Students have created attractive works of art by mixing different colors of chalk with water, creating a paste that can be dabbed on with a brush. Students can also mix mediums, like paint and crinkled paper or popsicle sticks to create a collage. This builds their sensory integration.
Ms. Silberman saw a child come out of his shell recently through a sort of transformative art project. The boy began drawing circles on a sheet of paper at different speeds- fast and slow. Then, he crumpled the paper and made a ball from it. He then used the ball to play a game with his teacher as they tossed the ball back and forth. This game helped build the social skills of the child.
Making an art project can also help an autistic child foster a unique identity through their creations. Since some children enjoy playing with toy cars, for instance, they can actually dip the little cars in paint and drag them across the canvas to create rainbow tracks.
“They use their interests to actualize their sense of self.”