Lego Based Therapy: A Group Intervention

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By Nadia Ezzamel
on 27 October, 2017

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Promoting Social Competence in Children with Social Communication Difficulties

Lego Based Therapy is a child-led and peer based social skills group intervention that was initially developed for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by Dr. Daniel LeGoff, a Clinical Neuropsychologist from Philadelphia, USA.

The idea to develop it as a structured intervention came about when LeGoff observed two 8 year old children who had a diagnosis of Aspergers syndrome sitting in the waiting room of his clinic. Both children had coincidentally brought Lego models with them and were excitedly playing and talking to one another. LeGoff describes that the two boys had previously shown no interest in each other and generally had low motivation to interact with others. LeGoff decided to work with the boys together using Lego as a medium for them to communicate and to motivate them to maintain their relationship. The children were required to work together to make a joint model. Here, key skills such as sharing, turn taking, making eye contact, following social rules and using greetings and names could be worked upon through the designation of key roles. Positive outcomes for both children arose as a result of participating in the sessions.

LeGoff then developed the collaborative building premise as central to the Lego based therapy approach. The intervention utilises the child’s interests and strengths in order to elicit a willingness to collaborate and interact. Group members are assigned a different role and the aim is for the children to work as a team in order to build a collective model using Lego.

Typically, there are three children in the group that take on a different role:

  • The Engineer – has a set of instructions for the model and has to request the bricks from the Supplier and direct the builder to put the model together
  • The Supplier – has the Lego bricks and supplies the Engineer with the required items upon request
  • The Builder – is given the bricks by the Supplier and has to follow the instructions given by the Engineer to make the model.

The adult facilitator’s role is to coach and guide the process in a way that encourages the children to problem solve any issues or breakdowns in communication that arise themselves.

Lego Therapy promotes the development of the following skills:

  • Joint play rather than solitary play
  • Listening and attention
  • Turn taking
  • Language skills; commenting, requesting, questioning, developing key vocabulary
  • Negotiation and joint problem solving
  • Tolerance of participating in group activities
  • Fine motor skills
  • Self-esteem.

Lego Based Therapy is now used in school settings and is often recommended by professionals as an intervention for children with social communication needs.

What is the evidence base for Lego Therapy?

LeGoff and other researchers who are well known in the field of autism have published studies into the effectiveness of the approach. 

LeGoff (2004) found that children and young people aged 6-16 years showed significant improvements in social competence as a result of participating in the intervention. Improvements in motivation to initiate social interaction with peers, ability to sustain interaction with peers, and a reduction in ‘autistic symptoms’, such as aloofness and rigidity, were documented.

Another study found that primary-aged children showed an increase in the duration of social interactions on the playground, and a decrease in ‘maladaptive behaviour’, as a result of participating in the intervention when compared with another social skills intervention (Owens et al., 2008).

A more recent study has shown that participation in the intervention led to an increase in social interaction between pupils on the playground, with a particular increase in their verbal interactions (Andras, 2012).

There is also some promising evidence for the longer term impact of the approach on the social skills of children with autism (LeGoff & Sherman, 2006).

Can Lego Therapy be used as an intervention for children with other needs?

Although the approach was originally developed as an intervention for children with ASD, it is now recognised that it may have benefits for children with other identified needs, such as children who have language difficulties or a Specific Language Impairment, attachment difficulties, and children who experience anxiety (social anxiety, selective mutism), and low mood.

Interestingly, there has been a recent research study published that explored the effectiveness of a robot-mediated intervention based on Lego Therapy, to improve collaborative play between children with ASD and their siblings; although the findings appear to be mixed.

There are endless creative possibilities for the use of this popular resource in promoting social competence. If you would like to access training to introduce this approach in your school setting, please contact us online. You can also call Nadia Ezzamel, Educational Psychologist, or Helen Marriott, Specialist Inclusion Teacher and Speech & Language Therapist on 0844 967 1111.

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