Expressive art therapy ideas


It’s a common misconception that people diagnosed with autism don’t feel empathy and one of the hardest things to hear when you’re a parent or sibling is that your son, daughter, brother, sister will never reciprocate a loving gesture. Anyone who’s known me through the years can testify that that is absolutely not true. As with many others with ASD, I feel emotions intensely and if you were to ask my family they would probably say that I feel emotions on a heightened level than most. Just because I don’t express our emotions in a conventional way doesn’t mean I have none. Sometimes it requires some pretty abstract thinking to comprehend how I process and express a feeling. Anyone who has lived closely with someone with ASD will often figure out a way to articulate how that person shows love or kindness. One of the many ways you can help someone find a way of expressing emotions is through art therapy. This art therapy exercises can sometimes produce some wonderful results for people with ASD. It breaks down the many ways you can feel about our immediate surroundings in our day to day lives and then go on to express how we feel about things or people important to us.

Materials – roll of plain wallpaper, large marker pen, blue tack, a variety of your favourite art materials in a spectrum of colours. Paints, felt-tips, brushes etc.

Method – Each of you roll out the wallpaper to just a little larger than your own height. Using the blue tack stick the paper to a smooth wall. While one of you stands against the paper the other uses the pen to draw the outline of your body. Once both of you have a life size outline of your body you can both begin to decorate inside of your body shape in a way that most feels like you. But to start with ask each other to pick your favourite colour then using that colour paint/draw a small circle in the centre of your body and explain that this coloured circle is you. From then onwards you may ask your partner to add a layer of art around the circle with their own choice of colours, shapes, etc. with no restrictions on size or composition. The body outline is simply there to act as a reminder that they are creating a self portrait. Ask them what else do they like and build upon each layer around the circle. The idea is that everything you add is an interpretation of outside influences that make you who you are. As you draw each layer around the circle ask each other what each layer represents. If they struggle for ideas you can give the task more structure. For example after the favourite colour you could ask them to draw a memory, earliest memory or warmest memory etc. Remember you can be as abstract as you like. The key part of this activity is the challenge of explaining each layer. The interface of the artwork helps to reduce the pressure of the task and the abstract colours and shapes act as a map for the artist to gather and express their thoughts and feelings on that subject. Always encourage them to lead with the subject for the next layer but if they continue to struggle for ideas here is a list of subjects for each layers.

  1. Favourite colour
  2. Earliest/warmest memory
  3. Most enjoyable day of the year
  4. One of your friendships
  5. The way a song you like makes you feel
  6. A day in the week you like best
  7. Something you miss
  8. A place you remember
  9. A dream or a memory (You can’t tell is which)
  10. A delicious food or dish you haven’t had for ages


Art Therapy and Autism

Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Using arts and crafts in a therapeutic activity taps into a person’s imagination helping them to express their thoughts and feelings in a way that is just isn’t possible by talking. Read more…


Art Therapy and Autism Books

The early years are the most critical period of learning for a child with autism. Therapeutic art-making can be a useful tool to tap into their imaginations and help them to express their thoughts and feelings. Read more…


Artists Who Are On The Spectrum

People who struggle to communicate in conventional ways have to find alternative means to express themselves and its not always easy. For some this search for an effective form of communication can take years. Read more…
Here are some artists we admire who are on the spectrum



Mark’s other drawings can be seen on his website

aa me speech bubble


4 thoughts on “Expressive art therapy ideas”

    1. Welcome Helen, keep visiting the website as we are always keeping it up-to-date with interesting information. If you have any requests or feedback please let us know by using the comments box.

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