Importance of creative activities and exercise for people with autism
At Apple House care homes we strive to advocate a healthy lifestyle and to be as independent as possible. We provide access to a programme promoting healthy living and wellbeing, with home cooked fresh food, regular exercise, and creative activities. This article outlines why it is important to give people with autism the opportunity to take part in creative activities and regular exercise.
Challenges for people with Autism
For people with autism, you may notice that they can have challenges in interacting in social situations as it can be overwhelming at times with direct verbal communication. We may not get a direct response or eye contact and we can wonder if we have been understood. So it may also be a struggle to build a relationship through words alone.
Often people with autism can have rigid mindsets at times as this can be their way of making sense of the world around them. So, therefore, they can find change difficult as they feel reassured by a routine that gives them a sense of control. They might not always understand that a change in routine may be something beyond their carer’s or parents’ control such as an illness of a friend, or a change in who supports them due to outside factors; Covid restrictions have been an exceptional challenge for many. Help and support may be needed in regulating emotions in response to these situations.
Jackie Edwards (2017) describes how people with autism may have difficulty making connections between their tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive sensory systems where they may be overactive or not active enough with how they interact with their environment. For example, they may have a hypersensitivity to loud noise or bright light, may also be de-sensitised to tactile experiences. So, therefore, they would benefit from a sensory diet to improve sensory integration.
She advocates giving people with autism access to different sensory experiences to help improve concentration and attention. In order to help them to be able to regulate awareness to the surroundings more effectively as well as helping them to relax and not feel overwhelmed, leading to increased socialisation and interaction. Promoting less rigid thinking, creativity, and motor skills.
Benefits of exercise
At Apple House care homes we recognise this importance by supporting and encouraging residents to access their community, taking part in physical exercises such as the gym (when safe to return) and swimming, and to help with gardening, tending the vegetable patch, and cycling.
According to Healy S, et al. (2018) research people with autism exercise can have a number of benefits:
- Reducing stereotypical behaviours or self-stimulating behaviours
- Improving social skills with sports that promote teamwork
- Helps to reduce weight gain or obesity
- Can increase a person’s attention as repetitive behaviours can decrease.
- Exercise can reduce anxiety and improve the ability to regulate emotions, build resilience to anxiety-triggering situations
- Exercise can improve motor skills and coordination for people with autism
Benefits of creative activities
The creative arts is another important activity and we support residents to actively participate in regular arts and music classes in the community and in the home.
Art can give a person a sense of control as they learn to adapt to the task in their own way. Drawing and painting can also help to improve and maintain fine motor skills. Creative arts can be an effective way to engage with the person in a non-pressurised way. Tactile art forms such as paint and clay also provide a sensory experience to fulfill the needs of the person to be able to balance their sensory experiences more effectively. Music can elicit interactive emotional responses and melodic rhythms can help individuals to engage.
Arts and wellbeing
People with disabilities can be more vulnerable to mental health issues so we are aware that it is important to provide a way for people to communicate their emotions appropriately. Behaviours on the surface may arise due to an inability to verbally communicate how they feel. Behaviours thus can have a function so this highlights the importance of non-verbal communication and communication aids to help people communicate their needs.
For further assistance, creative arts therapy with a trained art therapist can be a way for a person to be able to express or regulate their emotions when words are difficult, helping to improve cognition and emotional regulation. Where the aim is to use the art materials or creative activity to access emotional wellbeing and to help a person learn to regulate their emotions and understand themselves within a safe and facilitating environment.
— Andrew Wright, Senior Support Worker and Trained Art Therapist, Little Amberwood care home.
References and further reading:
Draycot, C. (2013) Educating Autism – Art and Creativity to Engage an Autistic Child in the Classroom. The Art of Autism: Connecting through the Arts. https://the-art-of-autism.com/educating-autism-art-and-creativity-to-engage-an-autistic-child-in-the-classroom/
Edwards, J. (2017) The benefits of multi-sensory environments. Autism Journey Blog.
Healy S (2018) The effect of physical activity interventions on youth with autism spectrum disorder: A meta-analysis. Review article. Autism Research. 11(2) · April 2018.
Rudy, L.J (2017) How Does Art Therapy Help People With Autism? Very Well Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/art-therapy-for-autism-260054