ArtSpeak Expressive Arts Enrichment Program for Children with Autism

ArtSpeakThe Foundation For Lee County Schools, Inc., Florida, ArtSpeak, – is a visual arts program designed to serve children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).

The information about the program on the website states:

‘ArtSpeak works with the students’ individual expression of creativity, reinforcing their accomplishments with positive statements throughout the art activity. The ArtSpeak program is an integrated blend of art and verbal communication. ArtSpeak brings various materials for the students to use, such as pastels, paints and clay. ArtSpeak operates inside the students’ classroom making it conducive for the students to feel safe and be familiar with their environment.’

More information can be found on their website here.

Below is a video that shows the many children who have taken part in this enrichment program and you can see some of the beautiful artwork that has been produced.

Having read about this innovative and creative program, we contacted Nina Jones the creative director of ArtSpeak. Nina has a degree in communications from the College Of Arts and Sciences at The University of Florida. She has worked for over 30 years within mental health and for 7 years at The Foundation For Lee County Schools, Inc. She has been an artist all of her life. We were lucky enough to be able to ask her a few questions via email.

Can you explain to us exactly what ArtSpeak is?

ArtSpeak is an enrichment program designed to be highly individualized for each child on the spectrum. It is a program that uses ongoing verbal communication and praise from the instructor during the process of creating. While there can be an art theme in mind from the instructor, the child has the autonomy to take it to where and what they are visualizing. The instructor brings in the art materials into the classroom. Pending on the child’s capabilities, ArtSpeak can be implemented from one on one, hand over hand to small groups. I have designed projects that allow for self-confidence and success regardless of where most children are on the spectrum. There have been numerous moments where some children that only speak once in a while start to increase their verbal communication during ArtSpeak. Often children experience anxiety during the school day, compound these issues twofold at times for children with ASD. ArtSpeak often has a calming and positive effect for the children. I create my ideas that allows Art Speak to become a visual language. The element of fun and relaxation is part of the process. So many times the child will look up from what they’re doing, I will smile, nod my head and they will take off making something beautiful.

ArtSpeak2How did you become involved in the program? What is your background?

Prior to working at The Foundation For Lee County Schools, Inc., I worked at our city’s mental health center for numerous years. I worked with chronic adults, foster care children, in home counselling and during my last years there, special needs children in the school system, so all of the schools could be served for children that needed group counselling. Somehow in each job, I would at times use my art to connect. I designed the group outreach program for special needs children for our school system. I ran small groups in several schools. It was very successful. Many of the schools with special needs students did not receive the service as it was just myself doing this program. The school system decided to implement the program instead of a contract with our mental health center.

Knowing I would soon be leaving, I sat down one night at home and I started to ask myself what type of program I could create based on my past experience. During the last two years of running groups, I was getting more and more referrals of high functioning children with ASD. Using my art as a way to relax the children while discussing issues, the children with autism would create their art on another level. Other students would praise them…it was very empowering for them. That night I wrote the concept and called it ArtSpeak.