At Apple House care homes we strive to support residents to lead 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 with them through words alone.
At times people with autism can have rigid mindsets as this may be their way of making sense of the world around them. So, therefore, change can be difficult as they feel reassured by a routine that gives them a sense of control. They may not always understand that a change in routine may be something beyond their carer’s or parents’ control. Such as the illness of a friend or a change in who supports them due to outside factors. They may need help in regulating their 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. This in turn may help them to be able to regulate awareness of their surroundings more effectively as well as to help them relax and not feel overwhelmed, leading to increased socialisation and interaction, promoting less rigid thinking, creativity, and motor skills.
Benefits of exercise
At Summerwood we recognise the importance of exercise by helping our residents access their community, take part in physical exercises such as the gym and swimming, and helping with gardening, tending the vegetable patch etc.
According to Healy S, et al. (2018) research shows that for people with autism exercise can have a number of benefits:
Benefits of creative activities
The creative arts is another important activity and we support individuals to participate in regular arts and music classes in the community and within Summerwood, their 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 them 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 and/or regulate their emotions when words are difficult. It can also help 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.
— By Andrew Wright, Support Worker, Summerwood Care Home, Hants (Rated ‘Outstanding’ by CQC).
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