Autism and the Power of Art Therapy
How art therapy can help young children with autism discover their hidden talents
Although Iris Grace Halmshaw doesn’t speak, her stunning paintings are worth a thousand words.
While most toddler art projects don’t end up decorating much more than a refrigerator door, the paintings of one British 3-year-old are attracting demand around the world.
The parents of Iris Grace Halmshaw have so far sold eight of the tot’s colorful pieces, including a framed print that fetched nearly $1,300—830 British pounds—at a charity auction. Art lovers from the US to Hong Kong have inquired about her work, her mother, Arabella Carter-Johnson told BabyZone.
Halmshaw, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2 and does not speak, began painting to help with speech therapy and to improve other skills.
“Her autism has created a style of painting which I have never seen in a child of her age,” Carter-Johnson wrote. Her daughter, she said, “has an understanding of (colors) and how they interact with each other.”
Proceeds from the sale of Iris Grace’s paintings are being used to pay for the girl’s therapy and art supplies, but her parents also said they hope the notoriety her work receives helps raise autism awareness.
Lisa Goring, Vice President of Family Services for the autism advocacy group Autism Speaks, told BabyZone that Iris Grace’s story is sure to help others by encouraging the use of art therapy, which is known to improve the expression of emotions, social skills and self-awareness.
“While art therapy may not work for everyone, Iris’ story will encourage parents who might also see positive results in their children, potentially improving the lives of other individuals on the autism spectrum,” Goring said.
Parents of children on the autism spectrum who spoke to BabyZone said their children have benefited from doing art projects.
Pennsylvania mom Joslyn Gray said art has helped her daughter too, but not just the paint and paper variety—she engages in the arts, as in music. Her preteen, who has Asperger’s, takes drum lessons.
“Playing the drums has definitely helped our daughter’s anxiety issues,” Gray said. “It’s physical, it’s rhythmic, and definitely gives her the sensory input she craves. For her, it’s both relaxing and uplifting. She’s very motivated to practice, which has helped her develop better executive function skills, such as time management.”
Gray, a mother of four who blogs at stark.raving.mad.mommy and Babble, noted that in the US, health insurance doesn’t cover art therapy but does usually cover occupational therapy, which can include making art.
And even without OT, parents can provide art supplies and encourage artwork at home… but just because Iris Grace has rocketed to success, don’t expect your little one to produce auction-ready masterpieces.
“I think we need to remember that Iris Grace is [only] one little girl with autism and that not all autistics will display such a talent,” Quinones-Fontanez said. “Each child with autism is unique and we must each work to reveal their talent—whatever it may be.”
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