SENSORY NEED FOR STICKY TEXTURES, FINGER PAINTING AND SPARKING INTEREST IN ART: HOW I TAUGHT MY SON TO CREATE ART
–Triveni Goswami Vernal
Registered Special Educator (A64010)
When my son was much younger, he had a varied platter of sensory needs, that took the form of various behaviours—like spinning on his own axis, or watching things spinning (for hours on end), watching things on the screen from very close quarters, till the image became blurry and pixelated, and he absolutely loved sticky textures. Many of his earlier sensory needs have reduced, but his love for sticky textures has remained. Things like water spilled on a surface (floor/table), honey, glue etc., can still get him quite excited.
TACTILE SENSORY NEEDS: SEEKING AND DEFENSIVENESS
Individuals on the Autism Spectrum can have varying tactile sensory needs. Some individuals may “seek touch”. They may want to touch all kinds of textures, or be hugged, or touch people, faces etc. While, there may be other individuals who may have “tactile defensiveness”—they may be over sensitive to even light touch/or to light pressure being applied. They may avoid being touched/hugged, or not walk on certain kinds of textures/surfaces etc.
Kabir’s tactile sensory needs include his love for sticky textures and he loves to be hugged or some form of touch with another individual.
Initially I tried to satiate his need for sticky textures by giving him, rolls of sticky tape, stickers etc to play with, but once the stickiness would go away, he would become quite restless. So, I then began to look up resources on different kinds of sensory play—and introduced Slime, Shaving Foam, Kinetic sand, Play Dough and created various kinds of activities with them. For example, I took a tray and filled it with shaving foam, hid various odds and ends (small toys, pegs, marbles) inside it and he had to find them, one by one.
A recipe for a slime like texture that can be made at home , is shared on the following website https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/er/wwbbnursery/2021/02/11/slimy-bumpy-sticky-sensory/
2 cups of cornflour
1 cup of water
2 drops of food colouring
Pour the water slowly into the cornflour and mix it. It will form a gloopy mixture. Add some food colouring or natural colour. It is wet to touch when lying on a surface and dough-like consistency when you hold it, just like slime.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of Child Care and Family Resources has a well put together booklet on Simply Sensational Sensory Activities for Preschool Children, that includes lots of recipes on creating various kinds of play dough, silly putty, paints etc for children, at home. The link to that is as follows:
The other thing I introduced Kabir to, was Finger Painting. As Temple Grandin, a well known American academic, Animal Behaviourist and Autism advocate has mentioned innumerable times, she believes in focusing on “what a child can do, instead of what they can’t do” (https://www.wnet.org/education/blog/autism-leaning-into-in). Dr. Grandin also believes that we should focus on directing the special interest/s that the child may have, into something more constructive. As quoted in the article, “Dr. Grandin, who has autism, points out that special interests can be storehouses of attention, motivation and knowledge” (https://www.wnet.org/education/blog/autism-leaning-into-in). Thus, if we can take advantage of what the child really likes doing, then we can motivate the child further and help the child develop a productive skill based on that interest. And that interest need not be art related at all. It could be anything. As caregivers and educators, we need to think of various ways to take that special interest and make it a constructive skill for the child.
Since Kabir had such an abiding love for sticky textures, I thought introducing Finger Painting would be an appropriate intervention for him. I felt that, not only, would it fulfil his sensory need for “stickiness”, but in the process, he would also learn the names of colours, and play with different textures and improve his eye-hand coordination. Initially, I let him do a lot of free play with colours. I would just give him the small bottles of poster paint. He would dip his fingers and create whatever he wanted on the paper. I provided no direction to what he chose to create. Over time, I noticed that he began to enjoy the process and would willingly sit with me. That is when, I began to introduce things around the house and outdoors that were easily available, like forks, spoons, flowers, leaves, twigs, bubble wrap etc., to create “process art”. I looked up sites like Pinterest and Google images for ideas. I began to scour Art resources and curriculum for Art, from across the world. I realized that unlike India, most curriculums abroad have a dedicated Art Curriculum, for all ages (starting from Play school and Kindergarten) where they teach various techniques and elements of art etc. Having access to the internet, I think, is a gamechanger. There is so much information available online that one can pick and choose and adapt the information to the needs of the children.
There are two things that I have always very strongly believed in, and I feel that they have helped Kabir evolve in his art journey as well. One, is not to focus on “representative art” alone, as being the only form of art that Kabir can create, but allowing him the space to express his imagination in an abstract manner. Secondly, not focus on perfection. There is nothing that is perfect in the world. And I don’t think we must chase perfection. If the child cannot hold a pen/pencil properly or cannot colour with a crayon (as it requires a fair amount of pressure to be applied), that should not, in any way hinder a child’s ability or need to create art. If the child cannot hold a smaller brush, do not fret. Allow him to paint with his hands, twigs, leaves or even a big, fat painter’s brush (like the ones used to paint the walls). We should let the child be and the child should have the freedom to create art that they want to, in a manner that they are most comfortable with. It is very important that they enjoy the process of creating art. Everything else is secondary.
It is important to encourage the child to do free play with colours. Representational or figurative art is not the only kind of art that exists. I feel that a neurodiverse mind has a special way of looking at colours and they have an eye for details. Abstract expression through colours, comes naturally to them. There exists lots of inspiration in Nature—natural patterns found on leaves, trunks of the trees, flower petals—spirals, symmetry, cones, lines. I think it is important that we allow the child to explore nature and the details that lie, therein. If we let the child explore their natural surroundings and absorb the beauty all around them, it is bound to find expression in what they create, at some point of time.
The other thing that I have consciously tried to do, is to take him to art galleries and museums and art shows (like the recently held Van Gogh Immersive 360 show). Even if it seems to us that they are not concentrating on the art in the gallery, you might be surprised at what they have actually managed to absorb, by just looking at them or taking in the various forms of art techniques, on display. One can also provide exposure to famous artists (Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, Georgia O’Keefe etc) and their different styles of art. For a younger child, the Starfall app “It’s Fun to Read” has an entire section on Art Gallery. It has animated videos of the artists, their painting styles, their quirks, some of their famous paintings etc. There are also lessons on Art on educational websites like Twinkl.in, according to age/grade. And YouTube also has tons of resources on famous artists, art styles and videos on their paintings and how-to videos of various techniques etc.
I am not trained in art, but I do read up a lot on various techniques, look through videos, and art education materials from other curriculums worldwide, and follow various artists on Instagram and Facebook. There are a ton of resources available everywhere. It is for us to provide accessibility to them and adapt them, to suit our child’s needs.
Evolution of Kabir’s Art Over the Years
Kabir’s art can be seen on Facebook (www.facebook.com/artbykabir/ ) and on Instagram (www.instagram.com/artby.kabir/ )
Author Triveni Goswami Vernal
Triveni Goswami Vernal is an Autism advocate, registered Special Educator (CRR A64010) and an Independent Researcher. Her areas of interest include Autism, Disability Rights, Gender, Art and Northeast studies. She is a mum to an 11 year old on the Autism Spectrum.
Artworks for this blog are done by our CreativeSaathi associate Kabir Vernal