Young people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are included in many of the programs at VSA New Jersey, including artist residencies in schools, exhibitions, and awards for achievement. However, one program has been particularly designed to address the needs of New Jersey children with ASD, their Parent/Child Workshops in the Arts.
This ten-week program, which VSA New Jersey has offered for many years, focuses on introducing students with ASD to the fundamentals of visual art and music, expanding their appreciation of these art forms, and fostering skills essential to well-being and academic success. Underlying all of these activities, says VSA New Jersey Executive Director Vanessa Young, “…is a deep commitment to enhancing students’ communication and social skills, as these are particular areas in which young people with ASD experience challenges.”
Young says the workshop instructors are experts in working with children with ASD, and have a variety of experience beyond their art form, including social work and therapeutic services. By utilizing the principles of universal design for learning, the instructors are able to work with a varied group of participants in terms of where they fall on the autism spectrum.
For those organizations that want to successfully engage more students with ASD in their programs, Young advises flexibility and collaboration. “Arts opportunities that effectively engage students with ASD are developed with the knowledge that each child may have complex needs and therefore approaches must accommodate a wide range of learning styles,” she says. Young also encourages arts educators to use parents as a resource, saying, “The development of successful strategies for addressing behaviors or engaging a child more deeply in workshop material works best when it is a collaborative process.”