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Art, Autism and Academic Success

Children with special needs are facing daily challenges in the areas of physical, social and cognitive development, however research shows the arts can play a key role in overcoming those obstacles. Students struggling to hold a pencil or place their fingers into a pair of scissors at a young age is understandable, but for children with autism at any age, these painstaking tasks can lead anxiety, escapism, and total melt downs. Fine and gross motor development is essential for children learning to write, dress themselves and create beautiful art. Research has shown that visual arts can serve as an instrument for students’ development in this area.

According to “Art and Autism, A Guide for Educators” published by the Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy at Ohio State University, the arts provide independence and collaboration, demonstrate a process of self-expression, imagination and creativity, and create a way to understand difficult abstractions. As described in an article written by Joanne Lara, MA and Keri Bowers, “Expressive Arts: Learning, Growing, and Expressing”, which states, “the arts provide opportunities to develop language, cognition, fine and gross motor skills, social and life skills, self-esteem and self-expression, and even the opportunity to define potential career paths. The arts are an avenue to developing an otherwise unheard voice. As a vehicle to expression, the arts have the capacity to bring a voice to every human being, encouraging the inner world to connect to the outer world of concrete reality”. Empirical data show us that the arts often increase academic achievement, enhance test scores, and improve attitudes, social skills, and critical and creative thinking (McGarry and Russo 2011). Tones, notes, movement, color, and vibrations support an exercise in developing higher-level thinking skills, including analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and problem solving (Wan et al. 2010).

* Stencil spray art can be a great activity to help with fine and gross motor development

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