Characteristics of a Rich Art Program for Children with Autism in a Museum Setting
By Courtney Todd
By Courtney Todd
AbstractAutism is a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by a wide range of disabilities, from severe social and communicative deficits to only slight difficulties interacting with other people. The increased incidence of diagnosed cases of autism coupled with special needs legislation passed since the 1960s, which requires the inclusion of more special learners in regular classrooms has provided an urgent need for pedagogical autism research. Researchers have found that art making is a valuable means of communication for children with autism who are unable to express themselves in words (Grandin, 1995; Martin, 2009; Evans & Dubowski, 2001; Kellman, 2001; Steinberg, 2010).
Most of this research, however, centers on art making in a classroom or home setting. In this pilot study, I sought to examine the characteristics of a rich art program for children with autism in a community setting: the museum. My literature review revealed three successful community-based art programs for children with special needs: the HEARTS Program at Texas Tech University, Friends’ Discovery Camp at the Creative Discovery Museum in Tennessee, and KIDSPACE at the Minnesota Museum of Art.
Additionally, I interviewed four professionals in the field, including two special educators, one therapist, and one museum educator. Several common characteristics about a rich art program for children with autism emerged including: highly trained and compassionate staff, individualized instruction, multi-sensory projects, consistent schedule, and inclusion of typically developing children. Informed by my research, I plan to develop an art program for children with autism at the newly opened Delaware Children’s Museum.