How can we learn about children’s behavioural problems through their drawings?

20 August 2013

New research published by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies has tested the effectiveness of the latest tool for interpreting what children’s drawings say about their behaviour and emotional state.

Miranda Crusco, from the University of Hertfordshire, used the Draw-A-Person: Screening Procedure for Emotional Disturbance (DAP:SPED) method to analyse the drawings of more than 170 seven-year-olds included in the 1958 National Child Development Study.

She compared drawings by children who had been identified by their parents as having behavioural or emotional problems to drawings by those who had not.

The DAP:SPED is a scoring system that allocates points to different indicators of disturbance in children’s drawings, including the omission of body parts, proportionality and erasing of specific features.

The study did not find any significant difference between the average scores of children who had behaviour or emotional problems and those who did not. However, slightly more indicators of disturbance were found in the drawings of children with behaviour problems than of those with emotional problems.

Crusco notes that further research is needed to determine the effectiveness of the DAP:SPED method. In particular, she suggests that using groups of children who have been clinically diagnosed with behavioural and emotional problems may avoid bias arising from parents’ judgements and provide more accurate results.

The significance of children’s drawings has been explored extensively since the late nineteenth century. This study builds on ongoing methodological research into the best ways of using them to identify early emotional and behavioural problems.

Read the full paper

Draw-A-Person: Screening Procedure for Emotional Disturbance: An investigation of the sensitivity of this method to internalising and externalising behavioural problems identified by the Rutter Parent Questionnaire at age 7 in the 1958 National Child Development Study’, by Miranda Crusco, was published by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies on 20 August 2013.

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