Arts Can Work for People with Autism

“Arts Work” for Autistic Services is a program for people with Autism, allowing them to express themselves through visual and performing arts. “The work is a peek into the minds of these creative people and a glimpse into the exceptional abilities they possess.” says Dana Ranke, a teaching artist at Autistic Services. This program is one aspect of Autistic Services’ mission that endeavors to close the gap between people with Autism and typical populations.

According to the American Art Therapy Association, “art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.”

Unfortunately it is regularly assumed that a non-verbal person or a person with limited verbal capabilities is lacking ability in other areas. As a result, people with autism may not have many chances to use artistic media.

The “Arts Work” program offers an opportunity for therapists to work closely with individuals on the autism spectrum to build a broad range of skills in a way which is more comfortable (and thus more effective) than spoken language.

For Autistic Services Inc. executive director, Veronica Federiconi, what started as a desire to help people with autism express themselves has blossomed into a program that has presented more than 50 art exhibitions throughout Western New York.

The current “Arts Work” exhibit in North Tonawanda, which runs through Jan. 26, has 19 pieces of work on show, most created by participants in the Autistic Services adult day habilitation program. There are paintings large and small including a range of different and themes and media. A solitary wooden sculpture. Renditions of buildings and portraits of people, or subjects known only to the artists’ imagination.

“This is actually the 10th anniversary of the Arts Work program,” Ranke said. “For our participants, one of their primary challenges is communication and socialization. Through visual art, it gives them a means to express themselves, and through art, it gives them a way to socialize with each other in a way they’re comfortable with.

“Art gives them a really safe, positive way to express some of their special interests. Art is really great for that.”

The program has had an additional benefit by providing an opportunity of socialization for the participants, Federiconi said.

“Having the opportunity to bring our folks into the community this way has also given our families an opportunity that they didn’t have before: To go to an opening reception and to experience something together,” she said. “That doesn’t always happen for our folks.”

More information about the current exhibit at Partners in Art is available online: