How to Use Art as an Effective Way to Teach Children on the Spectrum

By Sofia Mochon-Ciniglio

Art education is a multifaceted and complicated endeavor. It involves the mastery of artistic and studio practice, yet also the maintenance of an integral mindset of patience, respect and (as I’ve come to realize in the course of my work with special needs children) boundaries.

When navigating the special education art classroom, you come to observe that the needs of each student may vary depending on which area of the spectrum they are on— and any spectrum, specially that of Autism, includes one of the most intriguing and diverse varieties of ways in which the neurodivergent brain works.

Observing my clients has been a rough yet interesting road that seems to engender a great deal of empathy within myself as a neurodivergent being. If you’ve met one person with a specific diagnosis, you’ve only met a single person with that diagnosis and we as specialists, educators and therapists must refrain from limiting ourselves to a single view or blueprint of the way a spectrum child is “supposed to” look or behave. Hence, that would defeat the purpose of the word “spectrum” in the sense that it lumps everyone with ASD together without any consideration to the individual needs of the student with Autism spectrum disorder. As an art specialist, I have worked with children who manifest a multitude of disabilities—Autism being one of them. And as someone who feels as though they may manifest some similar characteristics, I find these children’s symptoms and needs clearly relatable. Thus, as someone who has a strong identity as an artist and creative, I believe that my lifelong and continuing interest and curiosity about art has benefited me when it comes to working with the neurodivergent population. Since art is a practice that is widely subjective, it allows for a gamut of mindsets to work with its complex nature.

For example, I have experienced periodically that some children on the spectrum will become hyperfocused on a certain aspect of art or specific artistic endeavor. They will, in turn, eventually work to master that particular skill to an extent that harbors a modicum of expertise in both their field and self-produced work and output.

Such as I can relate to as a neurodivergent artist myself, taking the time to utilize the myriad of special interests in which I have acquired throughout most of my adult life- and therefore coming to realize more nuances about this mindset later in life. My work largely encompasses nature and the concept of organism authenticity, but in particular integrates symbols of humanitarianism and community, taking ideas from Celtic and Nordic mythology, both of which I have recognized as special interests or hyperfixations that have been highly beneficial to my career as an art specialist.

Sofia bio image

Sofia Mochon-Ciniglio is a freelance writer and Braille transcriber for the visually impaired community and is aspiring to work with the American Print House. She is very motivated to lead or guide others who identify as differently abled. Aside from work, she is an avid traveler and has a keen interest in art, food, music, fashion and design.

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