Is Art Therapy for ADHD the Right Choice for Your Child?

Mother and daughter (8-9) doing arts and craftsChildren with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) often experience intense emotions, behavioral challenges, and low self-esteem. As a result of these experiences, children with this diagnosis may find it difficult to express their emotions and to develop the capabilities needed to control their behavior. In the short term, these issues can make it difficult for the child to have positive experiences that reinforce a sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy. Over the long term, this can have significant implications for their well-being, success, and motivation.

While standard approaches to therapy including medication and behavioral supports are integral to improving outcomes, alternative interventions such as art therapy have proven to be highly effective for addressing some of the innate challenges encountered by children with ADHD. Alternative therapies for ADHD are often overlooked by parents and educators, but there is a wealth of emerging research suggesting that these tools can be instrumental in helping children address some of the core challenges they face every day. For this reason, parents, educators, and counselors should be open to the possibility of using alternative therapies to support the needs of children with this diagnosis.

One of the most notable alternative therapies available for the treatment of ADHD is art therapy. Art therapy works in a number of different ways to lessen the impact of many of the negative consequences of ADHD. For instance, art therapy, which utilizes a number of different approaches for nonverbal creative expression, can help children with ADHD channel their intense emotions without engaging in verbal outbursts. This nonverbal form of expression provides an outlet for the child, which can quell behavioral difficulties. As the behavior of the child improves, the child may experience more positive feedback from educators, counselors, and parents. Over time, this may have a significant effect on the child’s self-esteem. As the child gains confidence, his or her behavior will improve dramatically, further reinforcing positive outcomes in all areas of development.

Art therapy has also been shown to increase attention span for children with ADHD by providing a source of focus. Art is a natural part of play in children’s development, and often children with ADHD are able to select art projects that interest them. With an art project of their choice, children with ADHD are given an outlet upon which to focus. Although the duration of attention to the project may increase over several sessions, the process is one that builds the capability of the child with ADHD to channel energy in a positive way that results in accomplishment. This also has an impact on the child’s self-esteem. Often children with ADHD are punished for their inability to pay attention or focus. By teaching this basic skill to children, art therapy can provide an important bridge for utilizing focus and attention skills in the classroom and at home.

Art therapy can also provide a foundation for the child to explore his or her identity. This can be a powerful process, as children with ADHD are often defined by labels and behaviors. For children with ADHD, labeling and attention to negative behaviors can make it difficult for the child to define himself or herself in a positive context. Art can connect the child to an inner identity that is positive and therapeutic. By providing this connection, the child can overcome much of the negativity that encompasses much of the child’s daily experience. In short, art can make a child feel good about himself or herself. Although it may take several sessions for children to experience this outcome, providing the foundation for this type of growth will be imperative for helping the child to achieve a better sense of self.

Even though art therapy is a helpful support for many children with ADHD, it is often not offered by schools or therapists. If you believe that your child may benefit from art therapy, you should ask about this intervention and see if educators or therapists working with your child can help. While art therapy will not replace more traditional forms of therapy provided to your child, it may be an important supplemental resource to help build vital social and behavioral skills that are difficult to teach in therapy. Having this additional support can help your child overcome some of the most common deficits associated with ADHD.

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Michael Clatch, PsyD, Child and Adolescent Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Blake

    December 4th, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    While it could be right for some that does not automatically mean that it will work for everyone. Sure, I believe that it could be worth a try and that if others have experienced something valuable with it then the chances are pretty good that you may too. But on the flip side of that, I don’t think that you should put all of your eggs in one basket either, and that you have to be willing to try other things as well until you find that one thing or mixture of several that will be the most helpful for your child.

  • jeffrey

    December 5th, 2014 at 3:50 AM

    This is something that has worked very well for our sons because like you said it gives them something to focus on and also something for which there is no right or wrong… just the opportunity to express themselves in a way that is free from constraints or criticism.

    I don’t know if this would be a solution for every family because this is not even something that was suggested to us for a long time with both boys, but once we did find it it has really helped both of them and I would encourage you that if you have gone other routes this is at least something new to try without having to rely solely on medication.

  • Jonathan

    December 5th, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    I think that I have read somewhere before that music therapy could have the same sort of impact that art therapy can. True?

  • Mehghan

    December 6th, 2014 at 6:03 AM

    If it gives your child an outlet and a voice that he or she has not had the opportunity to experience before, then I would by all means encourage you to try to let them be a part of this. It may work and it may not, but you won’t know until you try. Working with that special person who can help to facilitate this for them could lead to a very meaningful experience for them and allow them to succeed whereas in the past all they have experienced is more failure and discouragement.

  • Rob

    December 8th, 2014 at 3:51 AM

    I would definitely encourage parents with ADHD children to seek out many different opinions on tools that can help their child wrestle with this as there are so many different resources available today that many families have no working knowledge of. Educators and researchers have moved beyond the approach that medication can be the only solution, and if you believe that this could be a better answer for your child as well then I encourage you to not settle for the quick fix, which may or may not actually work for you, and to research other things which could wind up being valuable to your child and your family.

  • Matilda

    December 8th, 2014 at 3:15 PM

    I suppose that this could work, and believe me there are days when I am willing to try almost anything, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that this is a child who will rarely sit still for virtually anything- how can I expect him to take something therapeutic from something like this that could require maybe more stillness than what he has to give?

  • Cherith

    December 10th, 2014 at 1:52 PM

    You might have to be the one to consider thinking outside of the box because doctors, just like the rest of us can get stuck in a rut with the things that they think will be the best for their patients. You might have to encourage them to recommend something new or different or maybe even try something like this on your own.
    I think that as the parent you will be able to see whether this is something that your child will respond to in a positive way.

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