Most children with autism have not been exposed to quality arts education experiences. The projects may have been tailored for them in ways that are simplistic. They are not going to teach new skills or continue to develop their skills. Or the children were so overwhelmed and had to concentrate on overcoming the difficulties that they were unable to absorb the information.
Think about your role as someone who can be the “bridge” and break down barriers for these kids who are natural thinkers and visual learners. You can lead them to where their natural strengths may be present.
Most children with autism are visual learners. They see things like artists with the right brain. Although initially it may not appear that they have superior skills in this area, once the right way to teach them to draw is discovered and obstacles are overcome, they develop drawing skills. Visual art is a natural field for them. As Temple Grandin said, they “think in pictures”.
Find out how your child communicates. No two autistic children are ever the same. It means that you need to experiment and observe. You can learn a lot from observation. It’s all about communication and structure.
Demonstration with simple instructions and repetition is key. Use their visual ability when learning to draw. Put pictures and words. Make a list of steps for any project. Draw an area with a simple sketch to go with each step. You don’t have to be fancy. It only takes 5 minutes to set up a structure for your child. Ask him to repeat the drawing and give him time.
Start with the basics. I mean the basic things. Remember these kids may not have absorbed how to draw baselines, straight wavy or curved lines. Start with simple designs of abstract lines. This will give you an idea of his skills. Even if he’s 12 or 13, his skills can be at the level of a five-year-old. While the time may have been spent working on social skills, speaking, or reading, you may not have worked with him to make sure he knows how to draw. A child with autism does not store information like other children.
His “free time” drawings may resemble the drawings of very young children. He probably didn’t absorb anything beyond that, as he was busy trying to overcome the other challenges that presented themselves to him. While he is extremely visual, he may not have made connections that allow him to draw the visual images he has in his head. These children are talented. You just have to keep experimenting and finding the way they communicate and learn. They probably won’t absorb things the traditional way you teach.
Provide it with additional structure. Take the measurements you use in your typical drawing lesson and go deeper to break them down even more. This makes it possible to obtain even more structure. It may be all you need for your child to pull off an easy drawing. It can be as simple as taking an extra five or ten minutes to provide this service.