Exhibition Left
autism arts

Autism Centre

craig foundation


Autism Arts

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and the Provincial Autism Centre work in partnership to provide a range of visual art experiences for children and youth on the autism spectrum. This exhibition celebrates the art work created by young people who participated in the Autism Arts Saturday art classes. In these classes an art­ist/art educator works in collaboration with an occupational therapist. 

Encouraging Participation: Overcoming Emotional or Behavioral Roadblocks

Participation can sometimes be a challenge due to a child’s fear of trying new things, feeling uncomfortable with the close proximity of chairs or not knowing what to expect. These feelings could come out in what we know as challenging or difficult behavior. In order to make the child feel safe, one of the goals of this program is to work towards overcoming some of these barriers through the use of specific strategies and in some cases specific materials. The role of the occupational therapist is to ensure that there is an optimal opportunity to engage in the program.


Adapting Rooms or Environments

The children each have various areas of interest and strength. In order to ensure that each child has optimal benefit from the program, the studio is set up so that it is conducive to the individual needs of the children. Within the room itself, there are a variety of types of spaces set up. Some children prefer to work at a table, while some children prefer working on a wall space. Some of the children use a quiet space as a break or a calming area to go during times of feeling over-stimulated. The “quiet space” or calming corner contains soft lights, large-sized bean bags and some fidget toys (small bean bags or stress balls). Other children benefit from changing their environment by taking a “gallery walk”. The gallery walk-which is a walk around the art gallery serves not only as a break, but often as a source of inspiration. It is a significant part of the experience as the children often map out where they are within the gallery and learn about the many styles of art as they develop their own interpretations about them.


Art Activities

Selecting activities is determined by a very specific process. Some of the children create their own schedule by selecting from a variety of pictures or words (using a velcro board) about the art materials that are available to them. This helps the children to organize themselves and to know what to expect for the remainder of the art class. In general, the artist often presents a specific activity to the children which they can try. Various materials are consistently made available so that there are a variety of options to meet the individual interests. The artist is skilled in offering techniques for using the material and to help the children to achieve their creative goals.


The meaning derived from the art activities is manifested in many ways. Often, the meaning within the activities is in the process rather than in the end product. It can be about the exploration of materials such as rubbing the paint on their hands and then on the paper to experience the sensation of the paint. Play becomes a part of the process too, as entire scenes of movies, for example, are re-enacted through plasticine creatures, pipe cleaner creations or painted pictures. In some cases children learn to solve their own problems or adapt to some of the challenges that are sometimes apparent in autism. One example of this is with one individual who had a difficult time tolerating the feel of paint or anything messy on his hands. A print-making activity was presented to the class that day, and he saw that it was not feasible to do the activity without getting paint on his hands. He scanned the room for materials and found a cap which he then glued to the back surface of the print-making styrofoam. This way, he achieved the same goal doing the print-making, but without getting any of the paint on his skin.


The Autism Arts program has been an eye opener and an inspiration. Within the classes, the children learn, explore and express themselves through art in the way that works for them whether they need breaks or frequently switch from activity to activity. The processes and the results through the numerous art activities is a testament of the remarkable abilities that each of the children have. All in all, the art class is a time for the children to feel free to express themselves in their own individual ways and most importantly to have fun.

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