Thesis Title

The Efficacy of Sandplay as an Art Therapy Intervention to Improve Communication Between Children With Autism and Their Familes

Graduation Date

Spring 2012

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Document Form


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy

Degree Granting Institution

Notre Dame de Namur University

Program Name

Art Therapy


John Lemmon, PhD

First Reader

Amy Backos, PhD, ATR-BC

Second Reader

Richard Carolan, EdD, ATR-BC


This grant proposal’s hypothesis is that an eight week Parent-Child Dyad art therapy intervention, through the use of sandplay with children with autism and their families, will improve the children's communication. This project will take place in the Los Banos Unified School District with children, who are identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and their parents.

Sessions will be scheduled after school, twice a week, for 30 minutes. This intervention will use the Parent-Child Dyad art therapy theory that addresses attachment between the parents and children, it uses art to encourage the parent and child to engage in joint activities to produce artwork. This theory is designed to help parents and their children to have a therapeutic relationship, and to develop spontaneous non-verbal self-expression and communication. This will be done using the art modality of sandplay with both the children and their parents.

Children from the ages 5 to13, who have been identified has having ASD, and their families, will benefit from the collaborative use of Parent-Child Dyad art therapy, sandplay interventions and social stories to improve the children’s communication skills. An art therapist and a co-therapist, who will serve as a teacher for the school district, will facilitate the individual Parent-Child Dyad teacher sessions. They will guide the participants through an opening ritual acidity and check in/ this will be followed by the presentation of a Social Story, and a 10 minute sandplay intervention, which features open communication and interactions. The session will be completed with the children sharing their art and a closing ritual