Thursday, May 12, 2016

More powerful than the bully!

Tia is 13 and Leo is 8 years old. Both have Aspergers, both come together once a week for art therapy. Their relationship had come a long way in that they are able to work together on the same piece of paper in their own distinctive styles cooperating with each other which was not the case when they first began. Now at times they even complete each others work, crossing boundaries that were  at first rigid and guarded, commenting and sharing stories.

Slowly the dynamics of this little art therapy group has managed to open up the fiercely protected emotional world of Tia and Leo whose artwork is now beginning to shift from the factual to the metaphorical. Individuals with ASD find it difficult to express emotions due to the abstract nature of feelings. Masters of literal representation, when it comes to symbolic expression, they can be extremely challenged.

In this particular session, both Tia and Leo were given a directive to draw each other. The idea was to encourage thinking/focusing on the other, beyond the self, and to gain insight into how Leo and Tia perceive each other. After they completed their artwork, both were asked to talk about their images aided by prompts from the therapist. For instance, Tia was asked about Leo's expression and why she had drawn him next to a female figure in the picture. Whereas Teo who had represented a complete story around Tia's life was encouraged to talk about it. Eventually, the conversation led to individual likes and dislikes to which Tia said that the one thing she hated was being bullied in school. Encouraged to elaborate, she shared that she was pushed around by boys in her class and called 'lazy'. Spurred on by Tia's sharing, Leo, who is usually very defensive and emotionally reserved, declared that he too disliked being bullied in school and went on to give examples. At that moment the significance of the mutual revelation was very palpable in the room. One wonders what kind of impact a close bonding moment such as this could have on two children who struggle with friendships and relationships in general? The knowledge that one is not alone in ones suffering, in itself is a liberating experience.

Tia and Leo's artwork


The above disclosure from both children led to a golden opportunity to empower Tia and Leo against the bullies at school. Sometimes circumstances/reality will not change, but what can change is our perception of it; how we internalise it and assimilate it in our memories. Hence, Tia and Leo were asked to draw the bullies, give them a tangible form, something that could be an external representation of their dislike or fear. They both obliged, and once they had drawn their images, they were asked to contain the forms of the bullies within boundaries. The idea was to literally and symbolically imprison the bullies and take away their power. Both children ended up drawing substantial walls around their bullies, pointing out to each other where the walls needed reinforcement. The session ended, hopefully with Tia and Leo stronger in their friendship and more potent in their minds.


Tia and Leo will probably continue to face challenges from society as they grow, as does their exposure to the world. They need to be empowered mentally to deal with these challenges.  Art therapy is an effective modality that can help to give concrete shape to abstract concepts that may not be accessible through language. Also, it provides a safe environment for children and adults to process difficult emotions and events that need an outlet.


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