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  • Chapters 1 to 5
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Effect of Visual Therapy on Expressive Art Performance of Autistic Children in Yaba Local Council Development Area in Lagos State


Autism is a complex neurobehavioral and developmental disorder that brings about impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors. Autism is not a single disorder, but a spectrum of closely-related disorders with a shared core of symptoms. The main objective of the study was to explore autism and the effect of visual therapy on the expressive art performance of autistic children. The study area is Yaba local council development area, Lagos. The research focused on the visual artworks of children with autism selected from 3 classes for a period of one month. 20 school Children diagnosed with autism were identified and selected as the study population to produce art works with the inclusion of 6 teachers using various art therapy interventions to discover which techniques improve self-expression as well as communication skills and abilities. A random continuous sampling technique was adopted in selecting the participants. The instruments used for this study is visual art practical performance test. The research instrument was given to research expert for content validity and reliability.

The results indicate that art therapy adds to a more flexible and relaxed attitude, a better self- image, and improved communicative and learning skills in children with autism. Art therapy might be able to contribute in mitigating two main problem areas: social communicative problems, and restricted and repetitive behavior patterns. Typical art therapeutic elements such as sensory experiences with sight and touch may improve social behavior, flexibility and attention-abilities of autistic children. Considering the limited evidence that was found, primarily existing of elaborated clinical case descriptions, further empirical research into the process and outcomes of art therapy with autistic children is strongly recommended.



5.1 Findings

  • The need to develop positive and reliable means of self expression for children and adolescents with autism is imperative because of the many natural communication barriers that exist for them.
  • Not being able to converse with others or say what they would like to say is a reoccurring problem that this population faces constantly with little or no new developments in sight.
  • Due to the prevalence of the autism diagnoses in today’s society, these additional methods of Communication must be further developed to assist the growing number of newly diagnosed children.
  • Through the art interventions completed in this study, evidence of self-expression, communication and increased socialization can be observed as a result of the art tasks in which the clients participated. In many of the art intervention examples, the pupils displayed evidence of understanding their emotions and communicating with colours they associated with those feelings. In others they demonstrated imaginative thinking when they drew an animal they would like to be, or built them from a variety of objects.
  • It was discovered that the most effective art therapy interventions are the least complex with step by step directions to follow. The pupils responded well when directions were written and posted for them. By making the directions clear and not abstract in any way seemed to simplify the process and thereby engage the pupils even more in the process.
  • Interventions that worked well are Paper weave, okro printing, colouring and the drawing perception. All of these interventions provided detailed directions for the pupils to follow while encouraging abstract and imaginative thinking.
  • The concept that was too abstract and did not seem to work as well because of this lack of understanding of the anatomical structure was the lizard image sculpture. These conclusions were made based on the results from general observations, comments by the class teacher of the pupils after cross examining and evaluating each artwork.

5.2 Conclusion

My dissemination of this chapter began with a summary of my key findings in which were deeply explored in Chapter 4. I then outlined the implications of my work for the broader educational community where I stressed that art therapy should be valued and recognized in the educational community, not only for its versatility, but for the promising outcomes it provides for students, and students diagnosed with autism. I then outlined implications for the parental community in that these art-based initiatives – if have been shown to prove beneficial in the school environment – should be practiced within the home environment to extend the benefits it serves. Later, I identified specific actions or recommendations for the school community, teacher community, and parental community.

  • In essence, these communities would value in networking with professionals working within the discipline of art therapy to provide effective training, school support, and home initiatives that can be enacted to ultimately improve the lives of all students. Finally, I highlighted areas for further research as certain gaps and additional inquiries were developed through the completion of this study. Overall, I am confident that this study has created a movement within the educational community toward integrating visual art-based learning experiences to support students, especially those diagnosed with autism.

5.3 Recommendation

By and large, this study has been successful in that multiple art therapy interventions have been identified as effective in assisting children with autism to communicate through artwork. It is important for further research to be done on this topic so that more interventions can be identified and used to assist this population. Perhaps early intervention programs that provide therapy to children with autism would add an art therapy element to their programme, thus enhancing effective communication.

The findings are significant because many of the art interventions from this study have shown to be effective in enhancing communication and self-expression in children with autism. It may serve as a reference tool for art therapists who begin to work with this population. If more children with autism can be exposed to this alternative method of communication and receive art therapy sessions regularly, it is possible that even more individuals will find success in expressing themselves.

Above all, it is recommended that close attention span should be place on visual art as a viable tool to enhance communication of autistic disordered children to enhance representational artwork, socialization and behavioural change.

Educators hold an important role in the lives of students. Their ability to structure learning experiences that support the development and knowledge acquisition of students with complex needs can sometimes pose as a challenging task. However, when these accommodations and modifications are designed and implemented effectively, the feeling of reward is hard to ignore while students are flourishing. An effective method that teachers often rely on to enhance their practice is to seek additional training through a selected set of additional qualifications, and workshops. In light of this, research findings developed from this study point towards a need for additional training for educators in the area of art therapy or preservice educational courses structured around the use of visual arts and its ability to support complex needs such as autism.

While educators – both novice or experienced – enhance their understanding within the area of art therapy, the notion of using visual art to support developing and complex students will rather be thought of as an additional and effective method of supporting students in the classroom, as current perspectives hold art therapy to be unrelated to the classroom setting.

Becoming informed about this unique method will generate well-rounded teachers who can support a diverse range of learners in a plethora of effective manners. While educators can seek services and training to inform their knowledge, building collegial relationships – as research has pointed towards – offers similar assets to a teacher’s professional development. I feel that while teachers are maintaining a supportive networking system, they will be provided with opportunities to discover unique strategies – like art therapy – that can be used to support the learning diversity that exists within most classrooms.

Furthermore, I believe that strong professional networks also function in supporting collegial work efforts, and create safe and supportive working environment, which in turn, will contribute to teachers’ competence and confidence development within their discipline of employment. Recognizing the aforementioned recommendations, I believe that school boards will benefit in valuing the use of art therapy within the school systems. Thus, the larger ecosystem of the educational environment should seek professionals who are willing to offer their therapeutic instruction within the educational environment, and or seek training opportunities to provide their educator’s opportunities to develop professionally within the discipline of art therapy. Offering these additional opportunities, I am confident that school boards will create more well-versed and supportive school environment.

Research often highlights that, although art therapy has proved to deliver a variety of beneficial outcomes for students, its results may vary (Mirabella, 2015; Ju, 2014). However, this notion shares similarities with the idea that not all forms of differentiated instruction work for all students. This points to a question: if art therapy has the potential to offer benefits to a sample of students, why should it be ignored? Offering various methods to support children’s development, ultimately provides opportunities for all students to become successful and influential beings in their future endeavors. While educational boards can consider infusing art therapy into school regimes, these recommendations extend to parents and caregivers supporting students in their home environments.

When educators suspect a student is experiencing challenges within a particular subject area, supportive exercises are often sent home or recommended to be practiced within extra- curricular environments to enhance skill development and learning. While this method is perceived as effective, I believe that extending the therapeutic and assistive methods of art therapy into the home environment will present increasing benefits for students, and students with autism. Just as math extension activities, for example, serve to enhance the development of math skills to improve school performance, incorporating art therapy within the home environment will extend its benefits found within the educational environment to the home environment, ultimately creating a well-rounded lifestyle and support system for the child to develop and thrive. Additionally, I believe that further exposure to the intervention will create for seamless transitions between the home and school environments. Based on my findings and what my research has learned, it is evident that the teacher communities, school boards, and parental communities can become more informed about the offered benefits of art therapy.


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