The Arts and Speech/Language Development: Visual Art

By Peter Kao, M.S., CCC-SLP

This is part 2 of a three-part series discussing speech and language development and the arts.
Part 1 was about Music.

"All art is communication of the artists' ideas, sounds, thoughts; without that no one will support the artist."
- Lionel Hampton

The creation of visual art has been shown to be an effective tool in the emotional development of children, especially in how they handle negative emotions (Brown & Sax, 2013; Dalebroux, Goldstein, & Winner, 2011).  But what about language development?  While there is not a large body of  research linking visual art to language development, there is some research available..  This post covers some of this  research and discusses how visual art can be used to enhance speech/language therapy sessions.

The Research

Research on visual art and its effect on language development is limited.  For children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), current research suggests that interventions using drawing as a medium can increase expressive language output, especially if descriptive language is incorporated to describe the  art and emotions depicted in the art (Round, Baker, & Raynor, 2017).  Group art therapy intervention has also been shown to increase social skills, such as assertion, in children with ASD.  Negative social behaviors, such as internalization and hyperactive behaviors, decreased in children with ASD as a result of being able to draw to express their emotions (Epp, 2008).


visual arts in language development

Coates and Coates (2006) found that in typical preschool programs in the UK preschool children’s art showcased a wide variety of interests and continued scenarios from previous imaginative play.  When children were given the opportunity to draw  in pairs or groups rather than with an adult, language focused on the content of the art.  Children shared ideas, asked each other questions, discussed the content of their pieces, and used descriptive language to share their art with others (Coates & Coates, 2006).

The Therapy

One common pitfall that many therapists (myself included) fall into when discussing children’s art is asking the question, “What did you draw?” leading to short, concrete responses instead of allowing the children to freely express themselves.  As therapists, I believe we should use the same procedures eliciting language samples through art as we do with interactive play by following the child’s lead and allowing him/her to discuss the drawing while the therapist comments and responds.

While more research needs to be done in the area of visual art and children’s language development, using and creating art allows children to express their interests and emotions, and use personal narratives to describe what they are seeing, feeling, and experiencing.

Peter Kao, MS, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His interests include early childhood language, fluency, and voice disorders. You may contact Peter on LinkedIn.

Brown, E. D., & Sax, K. L. (2013). Arts enrichment and preschool emotions for low-income children at risk. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 337-346.

Coates, E., & Coates, A. (2006). Young children talking and drawing. International Journal of Early Years Education, 14(3), 221-241.

Dalebroux, A., Goldstein, T. R., & Winner, E. (2008). Short-term mood repair through art-making: Positive emotion is more effective than venting. Motivation and Emotion, 32(4), 288-295.

Epp, K. M. (2008). Outcome-based evaluation of a social skills program using art therapy and group therapy for children on the autism spectrum. Children & Schools, 30(1), 27-36.

Round, A., Baker, W. J., & Rayner, C. (2017). Using Visual Arts to Encourage Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to Communicate Their Feelings and Emotions. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 5(10), 90.