Give any child a box of LEGO and their eyes tend to sparkle like fireworks on New Year’s Eve.
Since their inception in a Danish builder’s workshop in 1934, the colourful building blocks have become a smash hit with kids all over the globe.
Turns out, LEGO may also be a fundamental building block in helping kids with Autism forge social relationships. LEGO-Based Therapy is gaining more and more traction as a fun way to teach communication and social skills to children with Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
What is Lego Therapy?
According to LEGO, the name "LEGO" actually comes from the two Danish words “leg godt”, which means “play well”.
It’s an edict which is proving especially true for the parents of kids with Autism. Both informal and NDIS-supported “LEGO-Based Therapy” groups have sprung up around the country.
LEGO-Based Therapy was developed in 2004 by Dr Daniel LeGoff; it has subsequently been developed further by specialist clinicians.
Dr LeGoff’s initial study showed that when used as an intervention which “combined aspects of behaviour therapy, peer modelling and naturalistic communication strategies”. LEGO-Based Therapy led to significant improvement in social skills in control groups of children with Autism and ASD.
Since then, multiple studies have shown improvements, particularly in children with high-functioning Autism.
In Australia, the LEGO therapy program is a popular social development program for children aged 6-16 years with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other social communication difficulties. It uses children’s love of playing with LEGO to help them develop communication and social skills.
What Does LEGO Therapy Involve?
Trained facilitators run LEGO therapy group sessions. The sessions usually run once a week for 1-2 hours.
In each session, the children work together to build a model following instructions. Each child is assigned a role. There’s usually:
- an engineer, who has the instructions
- a supplier, who has the bricks
- a builder, who builds the model
- a foreman or director, who’s makes sure everyone works as a team.
The children take turns playing the different roles, and together they build the model.
An adult therapist works with the group as needed to encourage problem-solving, communication, and engagement. In some cases, several therapists work together, using LEGOs to build motor skills, facilitate speech, and enhance social communication.
Therapists involved with LEGO therapy may be occupational therapists, speech therapists, behavioral therapists, or even psychologists.
How Does Lego Therapy Help Children with Autism?
The goal of LEGO therapy is to build the types of skills that can help Autistic children better engage with peers, share experiences, and collaborate. This means that the children who are likely to benefit from LEGO therapy are already at least somewhat verbal and able to follow both visual and verbal instructions.
LEGO therapy can nurture important social skills which can traditionally be challenging for kids with Autism, including:
- Turn-taking and sharing
- Verbal and non-verbal communication skills
It uses children’s love of playing with LEGO to help them develop communication and social skills.
LEGO therapy can also be expanded to encourage creative play and collaboration through storytelling, dramatic activities, and innovation. For example, one version of LEGO therapy has children work together to build versions of a pretend world described in a story, or work together to create a vehicle that has specific qualities or can navigate in a particular situation.
It is now part of the curriculum at the leading Koegel Autism Center at the University of California. Clinical Director Lyn Koegel says: “The best kind of therapy is when it’s so much fun that the child doesn’t know it’s happening. LEGO-Based Therapy fits that bill. The authors have left no stone unturned in developing a systematic social intervention. They provide a comprehensive, step-by-step program with documented improvements in social competence.”
Improve Fine Motor Skills
Playing with LEGO can also improve fine motor skills, working the small coordinating muscles in kids’ hands, as well as hand and eye coordination. While children with autism and ASD have a varying degree of problems with motor skills, LEGO-Based Therapy is a fun way of building skills that then have a positive impact across a range of activities.
Part of NDIS-Funded Supports
LEGO-Based Therapy is delivered by therapists and trained Allied Health Assistants and so they are claimable under NDIS funding, usually under the ‘Improved Daily Living’ category.
NDIS-funded groups are clinically structured, using the evidence-based methods developed by LeGoff to improve communication and collaboration skills. They use established techniques to develop self-regulation, managing emotions and team work, as well as verbalising in an effective way.
LEGO Therapy A Fun, Effective Therapy for Children with Autism
Playing with LEGO might just be one of the more effective therapies available to improve communication and a host of other skills, that your child will also really enjoy.
For more information
- How to apply for NDIS support for your child with Autism or ASD
- How to apply for the NDIS for children under 7 years (ECEI)
- Find your nearest LEGO therapy group or session at your local Autism Assoc.
- LEGO Therapy Online Hub
For therapists/health professionals:
- Using Lego Therapy with Autistic Pupils
- How effective is the ‘Lego® Therapy’ intervention to support children aged 5-16 with an autistic spectrum disorder with their social communication difficulties in school?
- The effectiveness of the Lego® therapy intervention in promoting the social interaction of children with Autism Spectrum Condition in the playground: An evaluation study
- LEGO®-Based Therapy: How to Build Social Competence Through LEGO®-based Clubs for Children with Autism and Related Conditions
- The value of LEGO-Therapy in promoting social interaction in primary ages children with autism
- A scoping review of the role of LEGO® therapy for improving inclusion and social skills among children and youth with autism
- LEGO ® Therapy and the Social Use of Language Programme: An Evaluation of Two Social Skills Interventions for Children with High Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome