Pottery for Autistic Students

Janelle Farrand
Janelle Farrand of Muddy Rose Pottery

Those looking for hands on activities for autistic students may be interested in pottery classes. Janelle Farrand from Muddy Rose Pottery offers insight into the benefits of this type of activity.

About Janelle Farrand

LoveToKnow (LTK): Please tell us a little about yourself.

Janelle Farrand (JF): My name is Janelle Farrand and I am the founder of Muddy Rose Pottery which opened its doors over a year ago in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The studio offers pottery classes, custom mud parties, family clay nights, and provides a therapeutic clay program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We are "not just a clay studio."

LTK: What inspired you to create Muddy Rose Pottery?

JF: If you would have asked me a few years ago what I had planned for my future, I would have never mentioned becoming a potter and opening a studio. I would have mentioned my feelings of discontentment in the corporate world in which I was working full time and I would have shared my feelings of unfulfillment in my heart.

Taking a leap of faith, I quit my corporate job and its security last year to become a potter, I sold my house within six months during the worst snowstorm, and I moved into the studio, where I am working full time devoted to my special students.

It has been a year since my partner and I officially opened Muddy Rose Pottery. The blessings I experience daily fulfills my heart more than any job I could ever imagine.

Hands On Activities for Autistic Students

LTK: How can people on the autism spectrum benefit from working with clay?

JF: My students with autism benefit greatly from creating on the pottery wheel as it encompasses all five senses, and it is a calm and soothing approach in providing sensory stimulation.

Discovering their creative ability as they turn a lump of clay into a beautiful masterpiece develops self-esteem, and builds confidence. I witness daily the utter amazement my students express as they examine their completed projects. What a sense of accomplishment they feel knowing that they have created something unlike anyone else, and they did it themselves.

Working on the pottery wheel encourages eye contact as the student sits directly in front of me and is somewhat dependent on my assistance for the water bucket and tools; making it tough to avoid me.

One of my nonverbal, autistic students created a clay wall plaque with a story about his vacation through the use of stamps. He was able to communicate his feelings of happiness in a simplistic, beautiful way.

We promote family involvement with our autistic students at the studio. Siblings are introduced to the pottery wheel giving them a creative outlet as well.

Artistic expression is a calming diversion to pain, suffering and worry, and it can be beneficial for every member of the family.

LTK: Can this type of therapy improve communication skills and behavior as well as fine motor skills?

JF: Throughout the entire session there is purposely a constant flow of either visual or verbal ideas and questions that demand some form of response from the student. Communication and socialization skills are strengthened as colors, shapes, sizes, patterns, or projects are discussed in depth.

The student is put into a position where an answer is needed in order to continue making the project that was started. I enjoy introducing projects such as mobiles that require making clay cut outs that are attached with string and beads. This is great for encouraging hand/eye coordination and developing fine motor skills in addition to throwing on the pottery wheel.

LTK: What techniques can parents and therapists use when working with children and teens on the spectrum in this medium?

JF: It is important to introduce clay building and the pottery wheel to individuals according to their specific needs and each session should be tailored to fit one's personality and mood at that time. I plan several projects and allow my student indirectly to dictate where I go at that particular moment and the means that would be most beneficial for him.

Many times, I need to diffuse an aggressive or agitated mood which I do so through the mesmerizing effects of the pottery wheel. There may be days where we need less stimulation and we will engage in hand building activities that require beading, stamping, cutting, or painting such as handmade masterpieces as vases, plaques, plates, or replicas of a favorite cartoon. Last week, one of my students created two SpongeBob SquarePants wall plaques that turned out just beautiful. He was so proud of himself and it made my day seeing his reaction.

The surrounding atmosphere is very important: a stress free, friendly environment where the students can be themselves without the fear of being judged or criticized on their performance will result in a positive outcome that boosts self-esteem. Never be afraid of sharing your silly side when working with your artist. Play their favorite CDs while creating in clay together. Sing, stomp, clap, and laugh, whatever it takes to set the tone to promote creativity and a great memory together.

For those students with sensory issues, we start slowly using soft clay with little grog (sand), warm water, and plenty of hand towels that are kept within their reach. I have found with having wipe-up towels in view and accessible, my students seem to be more comfortable in working with the clay and the muddy water it produces.

I have learned that baby steps with patience and persistence is one of the best tools you can offer any student.

Muddy Rose Pottery

LTK: How can readers learn more about Muddy Rose Pottery?

JF: Muddy Rose Pottery needs to expand into a larger studio to adequately serve all individuals. Private rooms will be added for students who require individual attention with families and therapists. The center will accommodate individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the elderly, those battling illness, or individuals in wheelchairs.

Learn more about hands on activities for autistic students:

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Pottery for Autistic Students