Communicating Through Art

By Judith Maginnis Kuster

Throughout history, artists have depicted disabilities relating to communicative disorders. For example, an Egyptian hieroglyph ( said to depict stuttering shows a person trying to speak, but words are blockedby a series of walls. William Hogarth's etching "Gin Lane" ( is sometimes cited as possibly depicting of fetal alcohol syndrome in the faces of the children. Norma Benger's Aboriginal Australian artwork, "Ngummama - Dragonfly" ( depicts a legend in which grandmothers catch dragonflies to test the baby's hearing by having them buzz near the baby's ears. An obscure Polish artist, Stanislav Szukalsk (1893-1987 named one of his sculptures Stuttering Philosopher (

People with communication impairments may be depicted in art, but they also create art. Art therapy ( is a relatively new credentialed mental health profession that uses the creative process to improve and enhance the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. Like speech-language pathology and audiology, the profession requires a master's degree.

Cathy A. Malchiodi, author of The Art Therapy Sourcebook (Lowell House: Lincolnwood, IL, 1998) defines two values of the visual arts: art making can be healing because it helps a person transcend daily life and bring "wholeness;" artworks can also communicate important information relevant to therapy, including changes over time. Following are examples of art created by persons who may receive treatment from a speech-language pathologist and/or audiologist.

Transcending Daily Life

Clinicians may challenge some of their clients to create artwork and decorate (with permission) their office or classroom.

Art by people with Autism

Art by people with cerebral palsy

Art by adults with language impairment

Art by people with hearing loss

Communicating Information Relevant to Treatment

Visual arts can communicate in ways words cannot. Art can connect our thoughts, feelings and perceptions with life experiences; help us understand who we are; help relieve overwhelming emotions; help discover insights about ourselves; help make sense of something painful; and help relieve stress. (Malchoiodi, 1998). In cooperation with an art therapist, we can learn important information from the artwork of our clients.

Study the potential messages from the following artwork related to health conditions and disorders:

Finally, the following two articles which feature drawings by deaf people and adults who stutter, are accessible to Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities.

Judith Kuster is a professor in the Department of Speech, Hearing, and Rehabilitation Services at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Contact her at All of Kuster's Internet columns are on ASHA's Web site in HTML format with active links (, although URLs change and there is no guarantee that links from previous articles are still functional.

Kuster, JM, Communicating Through Art, ASHA Leader, August 14, 2007, p. 38.