I haven’t said much about autism art class lately so I thought it was time for an update. This term we are working hard to create a recognizable and comfortable structure to the class and activities. We noticed that some children did very well when expectations were clear. An understanding that they must try each activity seemed to create a feeling of comfort. This doesn’t work for the everybody, as it is a divers group, but for three of the children we have a checklist of that day’s activities which they must complete and check off. In one way, it sounds uncomfortably rigid as an art class, but I have seen first had how this system is really helping. It is as if the structure allows them to feel free trying new things, a much-needed scaffold system for their exploration. One child who would do nothing but work with cardboard and tape now enters quite enthusiastically into all the different activities and did amazingly well in print making. Note the 3/3, A+ he included in this print – his way of recognizing and celebrating the fact that he tried all three activities.
On top of the organized list of activities, each station also includes visual queues. For example, at the painting station there is a card with an illustration of a hand painting. Activities that have several steps are broken down into “First this, then this” instructions, complete with the appropriate visuals. “First draw then paint.” It can be tricky sometimes to come up with illustrations for every part of an activity, but again I feel the structure is helping.
In a way it is kind of surprising that it has taken us a while to settle into this way of doing things, but in fairness the group is very wide in abilities, and I think we were reluctant to set up structure and expectations when there were some notable differences in the needs of the children. I was uncomfortable with the idea that there are two groups, even while finding it easy to identify them – one group that participates in activities and the others who do better with free access to materials that seem to work for them every week, such as painting. So right now we have three kids who participate in carefully chosen activities, designed to explore different techniques and materials. I should mention that once they have tried the activities they are free to return to something they like, or do something of their choosing – it’s not all regimented! We also have two children for whom art class is more open. Painting is generally available to them as it seems to be a favourite. Sponges, brushes, painting large-scale on the floor or wall, or on paper at a table. Sometimes drawing material is out, or last week we had some plasticine. Different children have different needs and it’s ok to tailor or support systems to make this a positive one. We are still working on it. But we know that trying to meet all the needs in one way just wasn’t working.
This Saturday I took the structure set up a step further by including an activity that required several steps: a tissue box diorama. The first step involved painting the inside of the box, the next was choosing an image from a magazine as a background. Then they had to create the standing up scene inside the diorama (itself quite involved) and add plasticine figures. (I took some process shots but didn’t get good finished ones!)
It was a bit of a challenge to come up with clear visual instructions but the ordered process did work well. In our experience, it’s quite an achievement for these guys to work on a project in a sustained way. Next week I want to try another project that involves several steps. I feel this might be a good way of creating a sense of accomplishment with special works.