Art as a Language for Autism

Building Effective Therapeutic Relationships
with Children and Adolescents

Dr. Jane Ferris Richardson

Art as a Language for Autism, book cover and description.

Art as a Language for Autism addresses the clinical challenges that are common in working with autistic spectrum disorder by exploring how artistic expression can provide a communicative language for younger clients who are set in their thought processes and preferences.

Exploring how both art and play-based approaches can be effective tools for engaging therapeutic work, this book introduces strategies to help young clients find expressive "languages" that can fully support communication, expression, and empathic understanding, as well as build skills for relaxation, calming, and coping. Building from a foundation of a client’s individual strengths and interests, this playful and integrative approach is informed by an awareness of the individual sensory profiles and the developmental needs of children and adolescents with autism. Through a greater awareness of these materials and processes for therapy, the reader will be able to create a space for their young clients to share what they know and care about.

This exciting new book is essential reading for clinicians working with children and adolescents on the autism spectrum.

Praise for Art as a Language for Autism

"Working In the dance space I have found that when we make assumptions about a child’s ability to develop and communicate, we only place limitations on the child that are based on a very narrow understanding of them until they reveal themselves to us.

'Art as a Language for Autism' is the most wonderful and welcome addition to this perspective which provides the reader with insights of a powerful creative approach to building relationships and reimagining life changing outcomes for children and their families. Written with decades of hands-on clinical experience and a rich in-depth academic knowledge of art and play based therapeutic practice, Jane’s work is truly ground-breaking and offers inspiring pathways to following and discovering the potential within each unique child." — Ali Golding, MSc, PG Cert SEN, BA(Hons), FRSA, Founder, Director, Artistic Director of MovementWorks

"This thoughtful book weaves links between the Reggio Emilia humanistic approach and art therapy. The Italian educational philosophy perceives a child as competent, whole, and part of society. Jane Ferris Richardson adapted it in-depth into the world of art therapy and autism in particular. Through a prolific kaleidoscope of stories, she demonstrates processes adjusted precisely to each individual. She playfully combines many nonverbal communicational languages: visual arts, music, movement, play, sand tray, storytelling, in a profound attunement to each client. 

The scope of interventions is rich and integrates the connections between mind, brain, and senses. She demonstrates how the arts are crucial in therapy and sometimes the only way to approach a person, especially with children with autism. This book is a meaningful contribution to those interested in art therapy, play therapy and intend to work with people with autism." — Nona Orbach, multidisciplinary artist, therapist, blogger and presenter

"Jane Ferris Richardson has created a powerful and intriguing look at working with autistic children in her book Art as a Language for Autism: Building Therapeutic Relationships with Children and Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum. Richardson has skillfully interwoven the intersection of the therapeutic powers of play with the healing components or art and expressive intervention. This book presents client examples, research support, and art and play interventions throughout. Among the highlights is a chapter dedicated to adolescents and a chapter portraying a powerful illustration of a mother and son and their journey/connection through art. 

This book will speak to the creative and expressive therapists who work with autistic children and their families. It is also a powerful read and insight for parents and families. The power and relevance of art with autistic individuals has been lacking in literature. Richardson does an excellent job of negating this oversight." — Dr. Robert Jason Grant, creator of AutPlay® Therapy

Art as a Language for Autism is available to buy from your local bookseller and online internationally from Amazon.

About The Author

Jane Ferris Richardson is a Board-Certified Art Therapist and an active, exhibiting artist. She is an associate professor and core faculty member in art therapy at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. Dr. Richardson holds an EdD from Boston University School of Education, where she was managing editor of the Journal of Education. Her professional credentials include Registered Play Therapist- Supervisor, and Licensed Mental Health Counselor.

She maintains a private practice with children and families, with specialties in young children and neurodiverse children. She uses a developmentally based, integrative approach to working with children, merging play and expressive approaches. Her approach is informed by her experience as a preschool educator, early childhood mental health consultant, and early intervention senior clinician.

A sought after expert in the field, Dr. Richardson's previously published work includes the chapters she wrote as a contributing author for: Art Therapy in Asia, Play-Based Interventions for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and The Wiley Handbook of Art Therapy.

Her work with expressive "languages" for children with autism has led her to collaboration nationally and internationally in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

You can learn more about the groundbreaking work of Dr. Richardson by visiting her website

Click on the play buttons below to listen to a couple of fascinating podcasts featuring Jane Ferris Richardson.

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