To expand on my previous blog on easels, working at a large easel can encourage larger and more varied movement using the whole arm and upper body. Watching the effects of mark making and seeing how paint dribbles encourages these movements. Working with larger movements also exerts more energy and physical activity is calming.
'Louis', aged 7, was a highly sensitive, non verbal boy who was almost constantly flicking his hand and watching this movement. He also had a tendency to eat things and this included putting brushes loaded with paint into his mouth. Giving him long brushes to work with at the easel helped decrease mouthing as it was more difficult to angle the brush into his mouth. When this response was decreased Louis began to notice the effects of the paint on the paper. I initially worked hand over hand to guide his brush to the paper and then let go and he continued making marks and watching the effects.
At first Louis's made marks using the same flicking hand movement producing a pattern of short stroke in a small area. I guided him to reach up and to make circles and over time he started making larger, longer marks and movements independently. His paintings progressively covered larger areas as he reached up and down and across the paper. At one point he stopped painting held the brush high in the air and watched as he circled the brush over his head.
This is significant as Louis began to respond and interact with things around him rather than focusing on flicking his hand which is a way to block out and withdraw. It provided positive experiences of engaging with things, of how he could effect change and control input in contrast to the autistic experience of being overwhelmed and inundated by stimulus.
Making different movements also creates new neural pathways. The more these new neural pathways are used the easier they are to access which increases the range of movements a person can make easily and spontaneously.
On another occasion Louis stopped painting only 10 minutes into the 45 minute session. He sat down at the table and I sat next to him and drew. He was content sitting looking ahead. I put a car in front of him but he didn't touch it. After about 15 minutes I felt something on my knee. It was Louis's hand. I looked at him and he looked back smiling. It is important to let individuals on the spectrum just be at times. It is often in these quiet, relaxed moments directed by the person with autism, that connections are made, feelings are expressed and different responses occur.