School Authority: Society For Treatment of Autism (Calgary Region)

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1 Project ID: Art Therapy for Autistic Preschool Kindergarten School Authority: Society For Treatment of Autism (Calgary Region) Scope: 60 Students, Grades prek to K, 1 School PROJECT PLAN Project Description: Our project is designed to help increase student self-esteem, and to increase participation in art activities. Often children with autism become hesitant to initiate an activity. Furthermore, these children have learned to copy what other people are doing and if they can't make their art work exactly the same then their self-esteem is lowered. We will hire an art therapist to do a session in small groups once a month. We also are conducting two professional development workshops on art therapy each year. After the first year, teachers and early intervention therapists will be running the art therapy sessions and we will continue to have professional development workshops each year. Art therapy teaches children techniques, but does not show them an end product that they must create. Therefore, the children will have to use the techniques taught to create their original piece of art. Improvement Goals: Student Learning Goals Students will use a variety of materials to create an original piece of art. Students will express ideas, perceptions, feelings, and thoughts in art activities. Strategies Developing relationships with the children to create a non-threatening environment where children are free to express themselves. Another strategy is to teach the skills and not the end product. Measures Teachers will record the prompt level required for students to participate. In addition, teachers will track task avoidant behaviors during art therapy. A decrease in task avoidant behaviors and an increase in independence should reveal an increase in children who are nonverbal. Anecdotal notes will be recorded for those children who are verbal. Comments that the children say before, during and after an art therapy session will be recorded (i.e., "No", "I can't do it", "It's too hard", "I did a really good job" etc.). AISI Project Art Therapy for Autistic Preschool Kindergarten, 2009 Page 1

2 Evaluation Methods: The teachers will meet to discuss with early intervention therapists the effectiveness of this project and if the project needs to be changed in any way. Feedback from parent and grade 1 receiving teachers also will inform adjustments and an assessment of the overall success of the project. PROJECT RESULTS Student Learning Outcomes: A decrease in tantrum and aggressive behavior was achieved. A few students were noted to have hated art projects at the beginning of the year and now art projects are a preferred activity. Students were experimenting with art materials and were able to create their own art work without the need of art work to copy. Students' self esteem improved and they were excited to share their art work with others. Task persistence increased. During art therapy, we focused our attention on increasing self esteem and independence. We accomplished this by providing time for children to experiment with various craft materials to create a picture. First the teachers would demonstrate techniques to use with the materials. The children would then experiment with the materials and then create their picture. Children were encouraged to be creative and try new things. No "cookie cutter" crafts were used during this time. The children had an opportunity to share their work and their work was always displayed on the classroom bulletin boards. This project has worked because it takes the stress away from creating the perfect craft. Children are free to experiment and make mistakes. Therefore the anxiety level decreases and children are excited to participate. This project was also easy to implement since we were quickly able to train other teachers on how to do effective art therapy. Task avoidant behaviors decreased significantly over the year. Children were excited to participate. They became more confident in their abilities and the frequency of the child asking an adult to do something for them decreased. Effective/Promising Practices Professional Development: Children with autism have difficulties with fine motor activities. Occupational therapists in our agency are focused on teaching the children to work on fine motor activities using developmentally appropriate practices. As a result the Early Intervention Therapists were often making crafts with the children where they had to cut and paste craft projects and make them look like the example. This in turn created children who were dependent on having an example craft and they got frustrated when they could not make their craft look AISI Project Art Therapy for Autistic Preschool Kindergarten, 2009 Page 2

3 exactly the same. Through workshops and by attending art therapy sessions, the Early Intervention Therapists are starting to see the benefit to allowing for some time for children to explore and create art projects. They are often incorporating these activities into their individual therapy time and they are able to be more creative with the materials that they are using. Art time is seen as a fun time and not a tedious task that the child must complete. Furthermore, the teachers at our school are feeling more confident in their ability to incorporate art therapy into their teaching. We found our art therapist through JB Music Therapy as they run camps for music and art therapy. The art therapists name that we have accessed is Heather Stump. Heather has presented at one of our workshops and showed us that art therapy is not just about doing an art project, but it is also about the relationship between the therapist and the child. She showed us how art can be used to communicate. We have also been able to learn about how to be an art therapist by observing her teaching small groups. She teaches six to seven children at a time. She showed the children techniques to use, put materials in front of them and encouraged them a long the way. Everything the children did with the materials was acceptable and they learned to trust Heather. Art therapy is something that we will be continuing to use. This project helped to teach the teachers and the Early Intervention Therapists that not every art time had to be a cookie cutter craft. Teachers were able to learn from the art therapist and to implement art therapy strategies. Early Intervention Therapists are seeing the difference in the children and comment on how they enjoy coming to art therapy sessions because negative behaviors have decreased. As a result, everyone on staff is trying to incorporate art therapy into daily activities. By setting aside time to participate in art therapy activities staff and parents observed that art therapy practices are effective, and as a result everyone is on board with continuing art therapy strategies. Furthermore, staff and parents are more likely to integrate these strategies into other activities now that they believe in the process of art therapy. Staff have been observed being more creative with how they teach fine motor skills such as preprinting, and scissor skills. Meeting once a month to discuss strategies and activities helped to train new staff and provide senior staff with some new ideas. Having senior staff mentor new staff through small groups has also helped us to be able to sustain the project. Summary and Reflections What worked well: Having someone from outside of our agency to come and provide us with a new perspective. A non threatening environment to explore tactile material. Children are more interested in participating in art activities. Task avoidant behaviors have decreased. Teachers and Early Intervention Therapist are able to carry over art therapy activities into everyday teaching. AISI Project Art Therapy for Autistic Preschool Kindergarten, 2009 Page 3

4 Teachers and Early intervention therapists are seeing the results of art therapy and therefore are supporting the project. Art therapy is easily taught and implemented. Art therapy can be incorporated into daily activities. Staff and parents support the project and everyone is able to use art therapy techniques. Furthermore, the project is sustainable. What did not work well: The size of the groups was too large. Four to five children would be more appropriate. 30 minutes was too long for the children. Some therapists didn't understand the idea of fading off their support. Some went to the extreme and did not provide any support to the child and found art therapy useless because the child did not do anything. Due to cost the art therapist was only able to come once a month. Having a separate art therapy time: easier to incorporate into daily lesson plans. Project adjustments Art therapy sessions will be shorter (15-20 minutes) Two activities were presented that used different materials so that the children who were tactile defensive would have at least one activity that was not stressful. The art therapist was shown how to use picture symbols, and to give directions using two word phrases. Modeling how to prompt a child through the activity without doing the activity for the child. The art therapist came for the first five months, then the teacher took over the teaching time and taught art therapy. Teachers and Early Intervention Therapists taught art therapy in one on one therapy time and during small group activities. Each month the children had an art therapy project to work on. We met once a month to discuss art therapy projects and strategies. Sharing and celebration of success We do not have any formal celebrations in our program, however, informal celebrations supported our work throughout the year. For instance, at the beginning of the year, one child would yell, scream and throw objects when it was time for Art Therapy. He would not participate in the art activity. After being exposed to a non-threatening environment where he was not required to make something look exactly like the picture he slowly began to participate in craft and now craft is a preferred activity for him. The rest of the class has AISI Project Art Therapy for Autistic Preschool Kindergarten, 2009 Page 4

5 also demonstrated a significant improvement in their participation and after each art activity the children are excited to show the teacher what they have done. Children are not only becoming less prompt reliant, but they are persisting at the task for longer periods of time. Rarely do we hear children say "no" or "I can't do it," and these were two phrases that we heard a lot of at the beginning of the year. Children of all abilities showed an improvement in their self-esteem and their participation. We meet monthly to discuss how art therapy is going and what art therapy projects we would like to try next. One child had a particularly difficult time with creating art projects as he often would stem off of his hands to avoid doing the craft; however, during art therapy we discovered that he really enjoyed clay and the smell and texture and his anxiety was reduced. He participated for fifteen minutes when he normally only participates for two to three minutes. Now he is able to participate with a variety of materials for longer periods of time. Many of the children now request art as their preferred activity and often request to post their artwork all over the classroom walls. Furthermore, when asked to draw something, they no longer say, "I can't do it." Instead they sit right down and start to draw. We met once a month to discuss art therapy projects. Staff wrote comments on data sheets which were collected. We met at the beginning of the year to discuss the results of the last year of art therapy and talked about changing from larger group activities to smaller group activities and individual therapy time. We will meet at the end of the year to discuss how to continue to implement art therapy strategies. Unanticipated results/effects The children were able to persist at a task for a longer period of time because they were enjoying participating in the activities and their confidence had increased. Furthermore, the art work was more meaningful to the child because they were given the choice of what to make and how to make it. AISI Project Art Therapy for Autistic Preschool Kindergarten, 2009 Page 5

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