Art therapy is available for children who are handicapped, hospitalized or emotionally distrubed, but few art therapy programs exist in the Washington area for children with minor emotional problems.

More than 100 art therapists are working with children and adults in local hospitals, mental health centers, residential treatment centers, special education facilities, community centers and private practice, according to Barbara Katz Mandel, president of the Potomac Art Therapy Association.

"School systems in general have been resistant to bringing art therapy into the regular classroom, but we are fairly well established in psychiatric settings," said Mandel.

Art therapy is provided in some public school systems, according to Mandel, but only for handicapped children who qualify for tax-paid special education. Exactly what services will be provided in each child's special eduction is decided by the school system's "Individualized Education Program" (IEP) committee.

In Fairfax County, for example, 239 children receive art therapy in the public school system's special education centers for the emotionally disturbed. Emotional illness is included in the legal definition of handicapped children, which also lists a range of physical impairments and learning disabilities. If art therapy is not available in a public school system, Mandel urges parents to join an IEP committee and request the service for their handicaped children.

Children who are not handicapped, hospitalized or emotionally disturbed may participate in art therapy at the Art Space, Inc., a community art center at the YWCA, 1649 K St. NW. A team of art therapists is working with children in "The Expression Shop -- Art Workshops for Shy Children" and "Fantasy Construction for Gifted Children." A workshop will begin next year for parents and children.

A final alternative, said Mandel, is to contact one of the approximately dozen art therapists in private practice locally. Further information may be obtained by calling Mandel at 656-1648 or writing to: Potomac Art Therapy Association, P.O. Box 57062, Washington, D.C. 20037.