VSA Ohio: Autism and the Arts

VSA Ohio-The State Organization on Arts and Disability.(Photo: vsaohio)
VSA Ohio-The State Organization on Arts and Disability.(Photo: vsaohio)

The Ohio Arts Council has asked VSA Ohio (The State Organization on Arts and Disability) to form strategies and curriculum to introduce the arts to persons on the autism spectrum. With autism diagnoses now at one in fifty-three births, it is time to work toward a future for autistic adults that can assist with social skills, address sensory issues and inspire new careers.

Yesterday the Arts And Autism Research Initiative met for the second time. Erin Hoppe, the Executive Director  of VSA Ohio has assembled a fine group of professionals (“friends of the autistic”) of which I’m honored to play a part. Committees and meetings like this, filled with good intentions, often wear out quickly. Yesterday, a facilitator helped us define some immediate goals, and chief among them was to train artists and institutions who might serve this population. The point was made (by me) that soon autistic adults will be a formidable target audience. You won’t lose money if you begin serving this possibility now. Teaching music, dace, theater, the fine arts to an autistic person requires a special understand of their social challenges.  A curriculum to do this is now in the works.

Linda Smith-Shank, chair of OSU’s Dept. of Arts Policy and administration hopes to integrate our curriculum into a license grating program at OSU. In particular we’ll be discussing sensory issues. Autistic kids are often very sensitive to noise, lights, movement. Adaptive performances are already available at the Columbus Children’s Theater and at several local cinemas.  Tickets sold for these events emphasize a ‘no problem’ attitude if a child needs to move about, or melts down. Lighting and sound levels are adjusted and actors at CCT often integrate the kids into the show. Developing data will encourage providers to realize an economic advantage in offering these performances. Explaining the needs of the autistic friendly audiences; developing an adaptive program and training providers were the three goals coming out of yesterday’s meeting.

This work will serve an ever increasing population. THe value of the arts have been shown an effective pathway to changing brain dysfunction. Music/drama and art therapies are widely used to re-train the brain, and provide a drug free alternative treatment.  Autistic adults are an invaluable resource in helping to understand mindset and behaviors prevalent in autism. Hopefully, we can develop programs that will employ these adults in training others on and off the spectrum to provide instruction to artists, teachers, care providers and institution. What would a restaurant manger need to do for a sensory-lite evening? (He’d run out of food and need help to count the money)

Next meeting is September 25. Over the summer are members are tasked with helping to assemble data and to brainstorming ideas for future programs. It’s gratifying that the Ohio Arts Council has inspired this work, facilitated by VSA Ohio.


  • Name

    what do you have available for pre-teens that are autistic and brilliantly artistic: i.e, sketching, painting? my nephew is an amazing artist and high-functioning autistic. he lives in Cuyahoga Falls, OH. please let me know. I want him to succeed in what he loves to do and possibly get paid for it as he gets older! ;)

    • Christopher Purdy

      Hello: Get in touch with VSA Ohio they often display the work of artists like your nephew. http://www.vsao.org