The Interpretation of children’s artwork in the Paediatric Disability Setting

Abstract of Paper for TAoAT 2002 by Robin Tipple

Conducting art therapy assessments in a paediatric disability setting, where multidisciplinary assessments for children with disabilities are provided, has lead to a reflection on interpretation, and the literature of interpretation, in relation to children’s art products. Of particular interest has been the artwork of children who have pervasive developmental disorders (Autism) and the author has been looking for a method of describing and explaining the use made of art materials and tools in brief individual encounters, where autistic children are “examined” through their response to the therapist and the setting.

This brief paper begins with some thoughts about the art therapy setting, and the nature of children’s art. This is followed by a discussion of “play” in relation to the use of art materials, and in relation to Autism. Some further thoughts about “interpretation” are presented and a method for arriving at some understanding of the artwork through a description of context and examination of speech acts is proposed. This method is then applied to some case material (drawing), which is presented.

The results of this method are then discussed in relation to:

    a. The task of assessment and the written report, and

    b. Traditional British Art Therapy approaches to interpretation.

The author hopes that his method will demonstrate the possibility of producing interpretations in respect of the artwork of some children with developmental disorders, interpretations that can promote subsequent exploration and discussion in a rational fruitful form.

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