What is LEGO® based therapy and who is it for?
LEGO® based therapy is a social development programme which helps children and young people with autism spectrum disorders and related social communication difficulties, such as Asperger’s Syndrome. The programme is based on the highly structured, systematic and predictable nature of LEGO play which makes it appealing to children with social communication difficulties who are particularly attracted to systems.
Much more than simply playing with LEGO bricks, LEGO therapy includes the presence of a therapist who guides the children and encourages them to address and resolve their problems. Through LEGO therapy, children can learn to communicate with others, express their feelings, change their behaviour, develop problem-solving skills and develop a relationship with the world around them.
Who founded LEGO therapy?
LEGO therapy was pioneered by Dr Dan LeGoff, a Clinical Neuropsychologist in Philadelphia, USA. The idea came to him when he observed that autistic children who were otherwise uninterested and distant really came to life and started socialising with each other when playing with LEGO. After this discovery, LeGoff turned the collaborative building central approach into LEGO therapy and published research on its effectiveness.
How does LEGO therapy work?
LEGO play is a multi-sensory and versatile experience, which means it can be tailored to suit each child’s individual needs. However, most LEGO therapy programmes are very similar and follow the same steps:
- Each child learns a clear set of rules and LEGO building skills.
- They are then introduced to a group of other children, including some who do not have social skill deficits
- Everyone in the group agrees upon a project which is achievable for everyone involved – projects are usually certain structures or buildings to create.
- Each child is assigned a role for the project. Roles are rotated throughout therapy.
- The group works together to build the LEGO structure according to the principles of play therapy.
What are the rules of LEGO therapy?
LEGO therapy rules can be customised according to the abilities and skills of each individual. Common rules include:
- Structures must be built together by the group.
- If you break something, you have to fix it or ask for help to fix it.
- If another group member is using something and you want it, ask for it. Don’t just take it.
- Use quiet indoor voices without shouting.
- Use kind and polite words.
- Keep your hands and your feet to yourself.
- Do not put LEGO bricks in your mouth.
- At the end, tidy everything away and put it back where it came from.
What are the different roles in LEGO therapy?
The different roles in LEGO therapy are:
- Engineer: oversees the design and ensures the instructions are followed.
- Builder: puts the bricks together.
- Supplier: keeps track of which size, shape and colour bricks are needed and passes them to the builder.
- Director: ensures the team is working together and communicating well.
Roles are rotated throughout the LEGO therapy session so that every child gets to try each role – this helps stimulate different aspects within the child.
What is the role of adults in LEGO therapy?
Emotions often run high during LEGO therapy and things can quickly escalate. As well as implementing the principles of play therapy and the rules, adults can intervene and support positive interactions, provide prompts to keep the group on track and suggest compromises to please everyone. If two children are physically fighting, adults are encouraged to mediate and redirect the children to use language, negotiate and compromise to settle their conflict.
What are the outcomes of LEGO therapy?
LEGO therapy results in better communication skills for children with autism and other social communication disorders. This specific type of play therapy also improves children’s abilities to change their behaviour, understand and talk about their feelings, solve problems and learn about the world in which they live, more so than any other play therapy.
In 2004, Dr Dan LeGoff published an outcome study showing significant improvements made by a group of autistic children following 12 weeks of therapy. Each child was starting more conversations with other children and the conversations were lasting longer. These children were also showing less ‘aloofness’ and rigidity than they had done before the therapy. The children who continued with LEGO therapy for an additional 12 weeks improved even further.
LeGoff and Sherman carried out another study in 2006 on the long-term outcomes of children who took part in LEGO therapy compared to the outcomes of children involved in non-LEGO play therapy. Those who took part in LEGO therapy improved more greatly in terms of social competency and were able to adapt to social situations much better.
Play therapy Vs LEGO therapy?
Following the principles of play therapy is what really separates LEGO therapy from simply playing with LEGO.
- Setting aside a dedicated time and space for the LEGO therapy on a regular basis.
- Encouraging non-verbal communication as much as possible.
- Promoting declarative language over questions and commands.
- Challenging and joining in at each step of the activity.
- Supporting collaboration and pretending.
Not all principles of play therapy have to be included in every LEGO therapy session. For a child who has never attended a LEGO therapy session before, this can all be too much to take on. It’s possible to start with just one or two principles of play therapy and add extra ones during each future therapy session.