Face Painting and Autism Awareness Month
Hi all, well here we are in in April already, if you didn’t know it’s Autism Awareness Month so I thought I would write my blog this time on face painting children and adults with additional needs. Before I had my two little boys, my career was spent helping people on the Autistic Spectrum, so it is a subject close to heart – you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t use the most current terminology, or if I leave something out. This is just my take, and my experiences! I don’t just cover children with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) in this, but kids with disabilities or health problems as a whole. I’m lucky and privileged enough to volunteer my face painting services at a wonderful hospital, and at my local children’s hospice (also my Business’ nominated charity) so I take my experiences from there too.
It goes without saying that all children are different, and this of course applies to all children with additional needs too. Although there are some common traits in behaviours, and different things you can look out for, the first and BEST thing you can do when a child sits down in your chair is a quick and subtle check with his parent or carer that he is going to be ok with what you’re doing. The chances are, that if the kid is sat in your chair, he will be! But it could be his first time, or it might cause an unexpected reaction, so saying something like “are we ok with painting on the face buddy?” would hopefully prompt a response from the child or the parent. Many children with ASD will be very happy to tell you EXACTLY what they want and don’t want, down to the tiniest detail.
Some things to look out for with children or adults with ASD, are that sometimes textures and feelings on the face feel alien or strange (as per ‘normal’ kids right?). Sometimes the sensation of touch, or even smells can be really intense for them, so go slow and steady. If it’s their first time, let them feel it on their hand initially, and explain what you are going to do next so they have the time to process it. Look for any non-verbal cues that the child/adult is uncomfortable and stop and reassure them if so. There may or may not be some repetitive movements/sounds that the child makes, if he does just give him some time to do so – these movements/sounds are important to help the child make sense of their situation and often to help them to feel safe.
There will be others with more profound disabilities that need their parents/carers to be their voice and say what makes them happy, maybe how they have been known to respond positively in the past etc. With these more profoundly disabled kids, it’s really important to be really verbal, talk about what you’re doing, show them the colours, let them hold a sponge or spray their hand with water so they can feel the texture and add to their sensory experience, and absolutely give them that mirror moment when you’re done.
When you’re working with children or adults that are suffering from a serious illness, and for example may be receiving chemotherapy, or are hooked up to lots of machines there are other things to consider. There are the practical matters of seeking guidance as to where would be the best place to paint these little ones, and then navigate the best you can around the tubes/ whatever may be in place. You need to be very careful with glitter, both fine and chunky in these scenarios just in case it gets into the tubes – and in some places it’s best not to take it out at all. It might sound really obvious but if you have the slightest cold or cough, do let your events organiser know, as the immunity of some of these people can be really threatened by the simplest virus. Psychologically it can be hard working with this group of individuals, but it is one of the most rewarding thing I have done in my painty career – and to be able to bring a smile to that child’s face is a huge privilege.
I thought I’d finish my blog by teaching you a few useful Makaton signs! As I used to teach this wonderful sign language as a communication tool in my previous career, I am always delighted when every now and again I get to use it in my painty life..
(I thought I’d give you a few options of what to sign, depending on how the face paint went! ;-) Remember that when you sign Makaton you always speak at the same time. If you’d like to know more there’s lots on youtube to learn from and I’m really happy to help out too – just send me a pm or contact me through my social media handles below.
I hope that you may have found this blog useful in some way, do you have any more tips on how to best support children or adults with additional needs that you can share with us? I’d love to hear them.