Talkback UK: Art Therapy as communication for those with a learning disability

Talkback is a charity who work for and with people who have a learning disability and/or Autism; providing them with opportunities to socialise, learn life skills and develop the confidence to become independent.

Talkback promotes choice, opportunity and respect for all people with a learning disability and/or autism, whilst working to change perceptions held within society. We want to ensure that the people we support are able to give a ‘real yes’ and a ‘real no’ which will be heard and respected by the people in their lives. In order for this to happen, we are committed to finding the way that each individual we work with can communicate and become in control of their own life, and this can involve alternative and unconventional methods of communication.

Talkback UK: Art Therapy as communication for those with a learning disability
Art Therapy

One new tool of expression and communication that we have recently begun exploring here at Talkback is Art Therapy. Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy which uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication. Within this context, art is not used as a diagnostic tool but as a medium to address emotional issues which may be confusing and distressing. Many people with Autism or a learning disability, struggle processing language and engaging in conversation, yet this does not mean that they do not have a rich and emotional inner life.

In fact, many individuals with autism have an extraordinary ability to think visually ‘in pictures,’ which is why using art as a method of communication can be so effective for them. Individuals who are non-verbal or otherwise struggle communicating, may not have had the chance to participate in arts activities, perhaps due to misconceptions of their abilities, or things like large class sizes being a hurdle. Thus the chance art therapy gives for individuals to work one-on-one with a therapist, is likely to develop new modes of communication that would not otherwise have been discovered.

At Talkback we are lucky enough to have a member of staff, Ashleigh, who is a qualified Art Therapist, having completed a master’s degree in art therapy. Because of this, Talkback’s partner organisation Nclude have begun to roll out both one-to-one art therapy sessions to the individuals we support, as well as group sessions which utilise therapeutic activities. Ashleigh reports that as well as Art Therapy providing an alternate means of communication for the people she supports, it also acts as a method of relaxation; alleviating anxiety, building confidence and making individuals more self-aware.

In the short time that we’ve been offering art therapy to our members, Ashleigh says that certain individuals have discovered a new form of communication, where their feelings can be ‘heard’ and expressed through the image making. Other members who came into sessions feeling anxious have used art therapy as a safe space to explore their anxieties and become able to calm their minds and focus.

Looking forward, Talkback has big plans for expanding the Art Therapy work that we are doing to further benefit and enrich the lives of those with a learning disability and/or Autism. One thing we are also working towards is community-based art projects such as public exhibitions, where we can showcase the work of our members, to raise awareness of both the benefits of art and how talented people with a learning disability and/or autism can be.