Art Therapy, Autism and Artspeaks

This year Artspeaks aims to expand its reach to support the work of charities that implement art therapy practices when supporting individuals with learning needs. More recently, as a Special Educational Needs teacher, my work has involved creating and delivering curriculum related tasks that are accessible for children experiencing a host of learning needs ranging from social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, dyslexia to some pupils exhibiting mild traits of autism. Although not officially trained as an art or play therapist, my sessions tend to incorporate appropriate elements of art and play and the results are simply fantastic – children are able to ‘creatively’ engage in activities, meet the learning objective and most importantly leave sessions with a sense of accomplishment.

There are and will always continue to be many conflicting studies regarding the benefits of art therapy as a whole in treating a plethora of conditions. This method of intervention has however, grown significantly over the last fifty years highlighting its efficacy in comparison to other forms of intervention, which have failed to be as positive.

Having implemented art processes within my own teaching, I can certainly identify with why art therapy has grown to be popular, the main attributing factor being that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in art. An art therapist will support their client by enabling expression that focuses on what is right with them as opposed to what is wrong with them. Furthermore, as seen from my own experience, art in itself fosters the scope for communication to take place where words cannot express the feelings, ideas or experiences an individual may be encountering. For young children, particularly for those who are on the autism spectrum or who have selective mutism, art therapy can be an extremely powerful tool for expression.

“Art therapy is a unique form of treatment for autism, as it helps mitigate symptoms, while also channelling autistic behaviours in to an expressive, creative outlet. It promotes communication, emotional growth and sensory integration while also fostering social interaction in a fun setting.” – Kate Lacour

Autism is a neurological condition present at birth, and with an unknown cause, the condition is steadily rising. A key trait of individuals on the autism spectrum can be seen in the difficulty they may find with verbal and social communication. This can vary from the inability to process language that can pave the way towards cohesive verbal conversation. In addition, many individuals may struggle coping in social situations, where certain ‘social behaviours’ my be expected in order to relate to others – something that many of us are able to perform with relative ease and comfort.

Apart from enabling expression to take place, art therapy encourages thinking visually, in pictures and symbols, which many individuals with autism have a natural knack in performing. Most importantly, art therapy can help to improve the ability to manage sensory issues as very often individuals with autism find a range of sensory stimuli overwhelmingly unbearable and intolerable. A wonderful example of this can be seen in a child who gradually became comfortable with using soap after a series of art sessions that incorporated handling slimy textures in a fun and creative manner.

The demand for school based intervention to support children with learning needs is also increasing and unfortunately, conditions can often go unnoticed or intervention provided is too late – instead of dealing with one area, other difficulties require addressing.

Overall, children and young people with autism are more likely to be open to art therapy based approaches as there are greater levels of enjoyment and satisfaction associated with handling and exploring art materials. Not only can individuals develop life skills i.e. interpersonal skills but also a reduction in stress but most crucially, an increased confidence in abilities.

Image credit

Samia Quddus
Samia Quddus, Founder of Artspeaks. This blog was written from a personal perspective and does not necessarily reflect the view of the organisation.

Our Journey

In 2012, Artspeaks was formed with the sole intention of acting as a charity service provider to support the work of UK registered art therapy charities by providing them with art stationary items.

Unlike the workings of other non-profit organisations, the manner in which Artspeaks operates is unique in that its primary objective is to outsource stationary items to charities that use art based items in the delivery of their work. With the recent gradual yet steady cuts being made to vital organisations serving a much needed role in the treatment of various issues mental health issues through psychosocial intervention measures – in this case being art therapy – our service is becoming ever more necessary to help meet the demand of charities who are experiencing the burden of prioritising limited resources.

Having taught as a Primary school teacher for many years, I was fortunate enough to witness first hand the impact of activities which promoted art expression through the use of 2D and 3D mediums; particularly with children exhibiting social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Compared to activities that enable art expression to take place, the nature of art therapy is much more than this. Led by a qualified and registered Art Therapist, (and other creative art specialists if necessary) individuals are assessed psychologically and emotionally with a comprehensive treatment plan in place. In addition, art therapists provide a crucial role in helping individuals reflect who they are, their thoughts and feelings through the simple process of interpretation from art based work they have produced.

Psychotherapy of this nature can bring about much benefit to those for whom spoken language can pose a challenge to convey thoughts. Words are not necessary and immediately breaks down any barriers an individual may face when they simply cannot verbalise or do not have the bank of vocabulary required to express themselves – the art work does the speaking for them – this process in itself can be incredibly empowering.

In the UK alone, there has been a steady rise in the use of art therapy to help children, young people and adults manage a plethora of issues ranging from emotional, behavioural, mental health problems, learning or physical difficulties, life limiting conditions, brain injury or neurological conditions and physical illness. Globally, its impact is well documented and its uses successfully implemented in countries impacted by natural disasters or those experiencing conflict and war.

With poverty, warfare and conflict becoming more prevalent in societies worldwide individuals of all ages are exposed to adversity and trauma with some estimates suggesting that about a third of the general population may be affected. More worryingly, evidence also leads on to suggest that adverse experiences in childhood – bullying, physical abuse, emotional abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect and occasionally the death of a parent – are associated with psychosis.

Post traumatic Stress Disorder also referred to as PTSD, is a symptom commonly associated with individuals who have faced such prolonged experiences. Without adequate support and most crucially, early intervention, the long-term implications can be detrimental to the mental health of many and can pose further negative consequences to the individual and the community as a whole such as higher criminality rates, lower attainment in education and negative general health and well-being.

We at Artspeaks believe that we can make a small yet positive difference by supporting art therapy charities to help them access free art resources to they can focus on the primary needs of their clients. The provision of art based items can further assist art therapists to fully set up or expand pre-existing art therapy services, offering clients a choice in the type of therapeutic support they receive and/or enabling them to increase their audience and service users. Since trauma, bereavement and tragedy are not always easy to talk about; creative art expression provides the freedom to communicate difficult experiences, which cannot always be achieved through words and empowers individuals to find positive ways of coping.

Samia Quddus
Samia Quddus, Founder of Artspeaks. This blog was written from a personal perspective and does not necessarily reflect the view of the organisation.

A ‘Blooming’ Marvellous Day: Artspeaks Outreach Projects 2015

Artspeaks Outreach Projects 2015

This summer Artspeaks has successfully supported two projects based in the UK and internationally as part of our Outreach work for the year.

Our first international project led us to the work of LMPE, a North African orphanage based in Marrakech, Morocco housing and providing the needs of one hundred abandoned children and young people.

Stationary items donated by Artspeaks were distributed by the team taking part in this year’s Soul Rally annual road trip spanning across Europe and North West Africa. The Soul Rally has been running since 2010 seeking to bring together a union of six global charities in what is currently a unique fundraising opportunity within the British community.

Redda Belhaj, Co-director of LMPE was very grateful upon receiving the items, reassuring the team that all orphan children would have easy and open access to the stationary provided.

A ‘Blooming’ Marvellous Day: Artspeaks Outreach Projects 2015

On Saturday 8th August, Artspeaks held their first UK based Outreach project teaming together with Shapla Aziz, Founder and floral specialist of ‘Traditions’ to deliver a Halo workshop to sheltered women residing at St Mungo’s Broadway. The shelter was a natural choice to make – with excellent facilities and a professional yet supportive atmosphere, many of the 14 women occupying the shelter are from various backgrounds ranging from domestic abuse cases to exile and displacement from their country of origin. Supported by key workers, relevant support systems are in place encouraging women to seek education and employment opportunities as well as attending in-house counselling programs.

Although Halo’s carry many religious and spiritual connotations albeit a symbol mainly prolific in religious art, selecting this form of floral arrangement to create felt apt to the nature of the backgrounds the many women came from, the environment we would be working in and the overall sense of vulnerability– an object that signified light, majesty and power.

A ‘Blooming’ Marvellous Day: Artspeaks Outreach Projects 2015

By providing a session that fostered both creativity and the therapeutic nature of handling and arranging flowers, our participants were introduced to skills which could be easily transferred in to other areas of floral work and serve as a foundation to build existing skills upon.

Equipped with necessary resources and instruction booklets all participants were carefully directed in the making of their Halo’s, following clear visual demonstrations and working at a pace they were comfortable with.

As described by Saud Ahmed, Project Worker at St Mungo’s Broadway, the workshop was ‘well received and went down a storm’. With overwhelmingly positive feedback, both Shapla and I felt we had more than accomplished our objectives for the day – to deliver an enjoyable, creative session within a safe space whilst at the same time empowering women to gain new skills.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our supporters, Shapla Aziz, St Mungo’s Broadway and of course the vivacious women who attended our workshop for a thoroughly ‘blooming’ marvellous day filled with laughter and confidence.

Samia Quddus
Samia Quddus, Founder of Artspeaks. This blog was written from a personal perspective and does not necessarily reflect the view of the organisation.

So why is Mindfulness the next new buzzword in Mental Health?

In July of this year, the Mental Health Foundation launched a week long campaign raising awareness on mental health focusing on the theme of Mindfulness. As defined by the MHF, ‘Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, without getting stuck in the past or worrying about the future’. Although a recent hot topic in the field of Western psychology today, Mindfulness itself is not anything new, where its uses date back to ancient practices more commonly found in a wide range of Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism, Yoga and Taoism.
As a mini experiment, I as ked a handful of friends what images they thought of when asked to think about the term Mindfulness. As expected, the feedback was varied ranging from performing breathing exercises, being outdoors, taking part in Yoga to performing prayers.

The impact of Mental Health problems is huge. At least one in every four individuals will develop some form of mental health illness every year with depression and anxiety being the most common. According to the World Health Organisation, mental illness is the leading cause of disability, globally. Medication is normally offered as an effective approach in the treatment of many mental health illnesses if that is what is required yet this may not necessarily always have to be the first option.
It may come as a surprise to many that everyone has mental health and where we are placed on the spectrum of mental health can vary daily and from person to person.
Long and short term factors of inherited genes (biological), life events (circumstantial), social inclusion, culture, relationship status, income and education are regarded as predictors of mental health problems.

But perhaps what is most striking are the psychological processes which determine our behavior through our individual thinking styles coupled with our ability to reason is crucial in the development and maintenance of all mental health problems. The psychological processes of dwelling – also known as rumination – and self-blame when posed with a negative life event can impact the general well-being of our mental health. In simple terms, the way we manage and process our emotions, thoughts and feelings will determine how much or how little the causal impact of any one of previously mentioned mental health predictors can potentially affect us, if presented in the form of a negative situation.

A 2012 research paper carried out by Harvard University presented findings stating that on average our minds are lost in thought 47 per cent of the time. Ultimately, this sort of mind wandering comprised with dwelling and self-blame can form as part of the routes to the development of unhappiness and poor mental well-being.

What is crucial though in the successful treatment of any health related illness is that these measures can only be fully effective when intervention takes place at the right time, from the right place with the right people. Early intervention is a key determinant in the successful treatment of many mental health problems – depending on the nature of the illness and with the implementation of a correct treatment plan, children and particularly young people can lead their lives in a state of positive well-being.

A 2015 paper published by Professor Richard Layard, economist at LSE, found that at present, ‘only 15 per cent of adults with depression and anxiety disorders are offered psychological therapy’ and ‘only 25 per cent of children with mental health disorders receive any form of treatment.’

The statistics are alarming considering ‘proven psychological therapies cost nothing’ yet the repercussions of delayed intervention can create a whole host of other expensive social and economic problems let alone being detrimental to the well-being of those experiencing ill mental health. Furthermore, with the shortage of services and programmes available, many are not receiving the support they so desperately need.

Independent of or combined with other forms of psychotherapy treatment, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) – the largest scientific organisation in the world dedicated to research on the understanding and treatment of mental illness has shown that Mindfulness can be a useful meditating tool when helping to manage these psychological processes and conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress.

On the other hand, Mindfulness may not be suitable for all nor can it be applied as a quick fix solution however, just like other cognitive behavioral therapies it does encourage and equip techniques to help one develop self-awareness and pave the way towards building resilience; thus promoting what many with poor mental health lack the most – empowerment.

Samia Quddus
Samia Quddus, Founder of Artspeaks. This blog was written from a personal perspective and does not necessarily reflect the view of the organisation.


Making frequent appearances in media headlines and political party agenda’s, the lead up to this year’s general elections gave mental health some necessary attention. Most people will have something to say on the topic of mental illness however perhaps, on this occasion, we could look at it an alternative way – one that makes us think differently?

In the UK House Of Commons, MP Charles Walker pointed out that the number of prescriptions for anti-depressants had doubled from 1998 to 2009. He further went on to ask, ‘Were all of those 40 million prescriptions necessary? Of course they were not.’

The statistics surrounding child and adolescent mental illness is staggering. Our own experiences from infancy through to adulthood generally contribute towards what we understand and make of the world. This can shape good mental health and positive well-being. Therefore is it fair to suggest that perhaps we take a step back and question the role society itself has to play – after all as human beings, we are bound to be affected by what takes place in our external environments.

As people, our behavior and reasoning are heavily influenced by emotions and mental health. Whether great or small, biological, social, cultural and circumstantial factors will influence the way we behave and feel. Perhaps if we regarded mental illness as a societal problem there could perhaps be a greater appreciation of non-medical forms of treatment and rather a greater onus on the main indicators that can contribute towards mental health issues; social and economic deprivation, inequality, poverty.

Of course, it would be wholly unrealistic to assume we could live in a society free of these ‘causes’ nor that mental illness no longer causes human suffering or mortality.
So the question arises, what can we – as members of our society – do when asked to think differently about mental health?

As Albert Einstein said, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Time and time again, research continues to pave the way towards creating and implementing early intervention strategies in services which aim to promote better well-being – this of course would have to start as soon as issues arise rather than delaying the course of intervention.

Crucially, perhaps developing a more compassionate attitude towards mental health could be a start. Every day we are exposed to events and situations requiring us to display a degree of tolerance and understanding yet, the attitude surrounding mental illness, a condition incredibly common in our society affecting at least one person we know, carries the burden of stigma. In order to create a healthy, functioning society where individuals are able to lead their lives in a state of positive well-being, we carry a duty in fostering an approach that treats those with mental illness humanely. An approach that supports recovery and social inclusion as opposed to discrimination and shame. An approach that is concerned with offering what individuals with mental health require the most – a listening ear, kindness, validation and respect.

Samia Quddus
Samia Quddus, Founder of Artspeaks. This blog was written from a personal perspective and does not necessarily reflect the view of the organisation.

Archives by Month:

Archives by Subject:

Archives by Year:

  • 2016
  • 2015
  • 2014
  • 2013