Benefits of Art Therapy as Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Exploratory Review

  • Erin Rafferty-Bugher
  • Jerrod Brown
  • Bethany Hastings
  • Cheryl Arndt
  • Mario Hesse


This paper will review art therapy as a beneficial treatment approach for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. A comprehensive literature review of applicable art therapy approaches is identified, including an overview of art therapy assessments for autism and a table of consolidated art therapeutic interventions and techniques is provided. A discussion regarding the use of art therapy as a successful treatment modality for autism across settings and ages is discussed.

Keywords: art, Autism Spectrum Disorder, treatment 

Author Biographies

Erin Rafferty-Bugher

Erin Rafferty Bugher, ATR-BC, LPCC, has many years of experience working as an art therapist for children, adolescents, and adults that have mild-severe emotional difficulties including in hospital inpatient/ outpatient and day treatment settings. In addition to working as a clinician, Erin is a core faculty at the Adler Graduate School (AGS), MN. Since 2007 she has been teaching in the art therapy and clinical programs and also holds the role of field experience coordinator for AGS. The Creative Arts Therapy Collaborative (CATC) was developed by Erin and partners in 2008, which provides individual sessions, family sessions, groups, supervision services and caregiver art experientials. 

Jerrod Brown

Jerrod Brown, MA, MS, MS, MS, is the Treatment Director for Pathways Counseling Center, Inc. Pathways provides programs and services benefitting individuals impacted by mental illness and addictions. Jerrod is also the founder and CEO of the American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies (AIAFS). Jerrod is in the dissertation phase of his doctorate program in Psychology. 

Bethany Hastings

Bethany Hastings, MA, AT, is a Lead Therapist and the art therapist at the Lazarus Project, Plymouth, MN, working with clients with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She has her master’s degree in Adlerian Psychology with a duel degree in Art Therapy (AT) and License Professional Counseling (LPC). Bethany is currently working towards LPC licensure and obtaining a board certification in AT.  

Cheryl Arndt

Cheryl Arndt PhD, is a research psychologist with roots in Expressive Arts Therapy. She is the Director of Performance Improvement for KidsPeace. She received her MA in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling Psychology from Antioch University New England and her PhD from Capella University. Current and recent research includes clinical outcomes measures and factors, which help to prevent child maltreatment. Dr. Arndt is a peer reviewer for Psychology of Women Quarterly. She holds Board positions in the American Psychology Association’s Section on Child Maltreatment and Division of Child and Family Policy. 

Mario Hesse

Mario L. Hesse, Ph.D. is a Professor of Criminal Justice at St. Cloud State University (MN). Dr. Hesse’s research and teaching interests focus on corrections, gangs and media and crime. Mario has extensive practitioner-based experience working in the corrections field (adult community- based programs, juvenile detention centers and juvenile probation).