Thursday, December 29, 2011

Psychology of Color

Some believe that color is a very powerful force in our lives and can have subtle effects on our bodies and minds. Interior designers and artists have used color to dramatically affect moods and feelings with their work. Institutions such as hospitals often use soft blues to decorate the rooms; creating a calming environment. However, your feelings about color can also be very personal and can be rooted in your own experience or culture. But there are certian characteristics and qualities of colors that can be useful when working with sensory sensitive children.
Color therapy or “chromotherapy” was practiced by ancient cultures including Egyptian and Chinese. They used color to heal and today in holistic or alternative settings, practitioners include it as well. Here are some interesting characteristics:

RED- Used to stimulate the body and min and to increase circulation (and appetite)
YELLOW- Used to stimulate the nervous system and help focus
ORANGE- Used to heal the lungs and promote energy
BLUE- Used to calm and sooth and treat pain

There are of course more nuances and uses of color that can be researched and debated, but how can some of this information be used in working with children? As an art therapist, I am always aware of visual stimulation when presenting art materials. When I notice a child is very hyper, I will avoid offering stimulating colors such as reds or oranges and try to stick with the blue tones. Does this help? I beleive it does, but to what degreee I am not sure. I will never deny a child colors that they are asking for, but may steer the choices when possible.

Color can also be used to evoke emotions or make connections to feelings, memories and ideas. I have often used the book by Dr. Suess called “My Many Colored Days” which can help children identify their emotions through color referencing. The story is wonderfully illustrated with colorful images that connect a feeling……this of course is rather subjective and I ask the children if the color in the book makes them feel different. Either way, the story helps them identify their own emotions which is often hard for children with developmental issues. After reading the story there are so many art making projects that can be presented as a follow up. I have had children create large murals, individual colorized portaits, and more……

Overall, color can be a great tool when working with sensory sensitive children. By experiementing and becoming aware of subtle reactions, we can taylor the activities and hopefully help them regulate. In addition, there are other things that compliment the use of color such as music and aromatherapy. More about those later…..

Accepting ASD

As I observed a young boy with Autism in one of our groups, I kept trying to “figure him out”. Why does he flutter his hands? What makes him jumpy or make the sounds that he does? How can we get him to participate with the others in the art therapy process? As clinicians, we are always looking for the right approach or mix or perhaps the right ”connection” to the child. But what I am discovering is that maybe those answers will not be avaialble any time soon- so in the meantime I think that focusing on the journey with the child and staying with the unanswered questions can be the enough for the moment. It may feel as if we are not connecting or making progress, but as with all therapeutic processes the subleties can pave the way.
Here are some points to keep in mind when working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders:

1) Remember that Autism is a challenging disorder and there will be a lot of tough days, so go easy on yourself.

2) Meet the child where they are at that moment in time. Sense the energy level and try to empathize with their potential discomforts. If the energy is high and overstimulating, offer calming activities with little pressure.

3) If the child’s voice or level of verbal sounds is loud….do not try to “speak over them” but rather lower your voice and calmly wait for them to see that you are trying to communicate with them, this takes patience. But, very often they will want to hear you and will become quieter in order to listen.

4) Sometimse offering a light touch or contact to their should or back may get their attention, calm them or regulate their energy. But be careful to ask the child if it is ok to touch them as it can be misread and there may be issues with touch.

5) Be aware of bright lights, loud outside noises or other stimulating sources in the environment. See if dimming lights helps, or adding soft music to the room helps. You can also teach the child to do deep breathing….this sometimes works wonders, espsecially if you make it into a game or use bubbles.

So, although we may not have all the answers to everything about how and why the child behaves a certain way or can’t seem to connect to his peers or to us, we can relax a bit and just try to be available for the child as best we can. As we travel the journey, an answer or two may just appear when its supposed to.