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Two New Breakthroughs for Autism: Art and Animal Therapies

Heather Suhr
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Certain traditional approaches of therapy for autism are proving to be ineffective. As autism becomes more prevalent in the United States, with approximately 1 out of 68 people classified as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), newer types of therapies are being evaluated to help this group of people. (1,2)

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is generally a complex developmental disability that presents itself in the first three years of a person’s life. ASD is a neurological disorder that has an effect on the normal function of the brain, which can affect a person’s communication and social interaction development process. (3)

Non-verbal communication, different types of social interactions, and activities that include play or banter are what autistic people struggle with in their daily lives. (3) Thankfully, there are newer forms of therapies that appear to be highly effective and easily tailored to individual needs.

Currently, behavior modification is the most popular form of therapy

Behavior modification therapy is designed to shape behaviors through a system of rewards and consequences. Behavior modification techniques are typically implemented in order to increase appropriate behaviors and decrease inappropriate behaviors. There are several techniques that can go along with this. (4)

While behavior modification is the most popular form of therapy, and generally does work much better than traditional methods, it might not work for everyone. There are two new breakthroughs that provide more variety to meet an individual’s unique needs: art therapy and animal therapy. (2)

Breakthrough #1: Art Therapy

The Art of Autism explains art therapy: “Broadly speaking, art therapy promotes mental and emotional growth through art making. Unlike art instruction, art therapy is conducted with the aim of building life skills, addressing deficits and problem behaviors, and promoting healthy self-expression. Clients are encouraged to explore and express themselves using art materials; crafting attractive artwork is not the goal (though it may be a happy by-product).” (5)

According to Temple Gradin, people with ASD are visual thinkers. (6) This method of therapy is perfect for non-verbal autism clients, which allows them to communicate through a different method other than language. It’s also good for those who struggle with social issues and use art therapy to avoid stressful interactions. (5)

Art therapy helps ASD clients to bring what they visualize into fruition through their artwork.

Breakthrough #2: Animal Therapy

An article by Teresa Foden, an assistant editor at the Interactive Autism Network, explains that people with ASD can also benefit from animal therapy. She explains through extensive and clinically proven ways that animals can have an impact in the life of people with ASD in managing their condition. (7)

The Western Journal of Nursing Research published a study that found children with ASD were in a much better mood and more aware of their surroundings when they lived and played with dogs compared to children who were exposed to other therapeutic methods. (8)

Animal therapy helps ASD clients to learn how to develop social attachments through non-verbal communications or complex emotions.

It’s encouraging to see improved options available to support those with ASD to thrive in life. If you or someone you know have a form of autism, what are therapy approaches that worked? Comment below!

Sources for this article include:
(1) www.autism-society.org
(2) blog.theautismsite.com
(3) www.medicalnewstoday.com
(4) www.autism-behavior-strategies.com
(5) the-art-of-autism.com
(6) www.autism.com
(7) iancommunity.org
(8) www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Image source: flic.kr

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