Monday, October 26, 2015

Art therapy with Xijian*

Art therapy with Xijian*

Xijian entered the play school silently, seemingly indifferent to the children  around him and the adults minding them. He communicated with the staff, only when he needed something, by pulling their arms or screaming.

Drawn to Xi by his elusive mien and aura of mystery that surrounds most children on the spectrum, I discovered upon inquiry that he was indeed autistic. Xi was 4 years old and non-verbal, his single mother was having a hard time working and looking after him.

So when I was asked to do art therapy with Xi I agreed happily, not only because I was very familiar with ASD due to my own son having autism, but also because he would be my first client who was on the spectrum. I would have to take an entirely different approach from my other clients with Xi. I would learn with him and from him.

Thus, I began with observing Xi in my art space allowing him to do as he pleased with the art materials set up for him. I let him leave the session at will and return as long as I was not working with another child.

Xi would grab the markers and scribble on the paper prepared for him, sometimes for a few seconds or a few minutes then wander off. Often he would hum rhythmically while scribbling or make sounds like tuk tuk tuk in synchrony with the marks that he made with his brush.

Slowly I began to join Xi in his scribbles. I became his mirror, mimicking his movements and his sounds. Gradually Xi and I started to play through our joint art making. With little or no eye contact, Xi began to approach me and direct my attention to his needs; a colour that he liked, a mark that he wanted me to make. When I stopped to draw with him deliberately, he pulled my hand to join his. When I hummed his favourite tune he joined in and we both began to draw and sing together. Xi began to stay longer and longer in the sessions.

And then one day, much to the disbelief of the school staff, Xi barged into my room, looked me straight in the eyes, took me by my hand and led me to the school door where my husband was waiting to pick me up.

This seemingly mundane act of Xi’s was anything but that. It was his first communication with anyone in the school where he had taken the initiative to engage another person where his own needs were not the focus.

The moment I realised what Xi was doing, I would have flown if I had wings.


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