The effect of drawing lessons on hyperarousal in children who experienced the Canterbury Earthquakes.
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Five years on from the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes, research has shown an increase in hyperarousal symptoms in school children. While Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is currently the gold standard for treating Post-Traumatic Stress, there are insufficient clinicians to treat the high numbers of children in post-disaster communities. Alternative non-verbal interventions in school based settings that target the physiological basis of hyperarousal may be more effective for long term stress reduction in some young children. Neuroscience research suggests that drawing activates brain areas connected with the autonomic nervous system, resulting in relaxation and self-regulation. The aim of the current study was to determine whether a 20-minute drawing lesson during the afternoon of the school day would reduce stress in children with hyperarousal symptoms.
The study had a single subject ABA design. Four children participated, two of the children exhibited hyperarousal symptoms, and the other two did not, as determined by teacher and parent responses on the Behaviour Problem Index (BPI). The children’s selfreported stress (measured by the Subjective Unit of Distress (SUD) thermometer) and physiological stress (measured by finger temperature) were recorded at the start and end of each session during baseline, drawing lessons, and return to baseline phases.
The results of the study showed a general reduction in physiological stress during the drawing lessons for the children with hyperarousal symptoms. However, the results indicated some discrepancies between the children’s physiological stress and perception of stress, which may suggest that the self-report measure was inappropriate for the children in this study. Overall, the study suggests that drawing lessons show promise as a school-based intervention for reducing stress in children with hyperarousal. More research is required to address the limitations of the present study, and before the study can be applied to the whole classroom as a positive strategy for managing stress at school.