LEGO Brick Based Therapy – What You Need to KnowJan 31, 2024
If you’re using LEGO brick based therapy, how do you know if you’re doing it correctly? In this blog, Dr. Gina Gomez de la Cuesta, Clinical Psychologist and co-author of the LEGO based therapy manual explains the importance of playful Brick Clubs, and how her social enterprise Play Included C.I.C. have updated the methodology in their neurodiversity affirming Brick-by-Brick programme.
We know that play is fundamental for children’s development. Not only does it support social and emotional wellbeing, it improves cognitive and physical development and is a brilliant way for children to learn. Play is also an opportunity for children to enjoy meaningful social experiences together – something many children missed out on during the recent pandemic.
Childline recently reported an increase of 71% of calls from children who were feeling lonely. As a clinical psychologist specialising in autism, I am all too aware that autistic children can be particularly vulnerable to feeling lonely, and are negatively affected by fewer opportunities to socialise with peers. Unfortunately, lots of autistic children continue to feel anxious about social situations, attending school can be really hard and they can feel misunderstood or unsupported. What we’ve definitely learned during the isolation of Covid, is that it’s essential that children have the chance to interact with others, do fun things, and play together and I hope 2024 brings more opportunities for neurodivergent children to do that.
I have been working in the field of LEGO brick based therapy since I learned the approach from Dr. Dan LeGoff during my PhD at Cambridge University Autism Research Centre in 2004. This engaging and effective methodology based on collaborative LEGO play has been found to support social interaction for autistic children. I also think it can be really helpful for many children, not just those with a diagnosis of autism. It might be just the thing for children feeling anxious or isolated, or children needing a bit of extra support with social development for any reason. It can help children to find a place they can socialise as themselves, use their strengths, play and share interests with peers.
How does LEGO brick based therapy work?
Through collaborative LEGO® play in groups known as Brick Clubs, children have fun, make friends, and develop their communication skills, confidence, and social and emotional wellbeing.
Rather than building by themselves, children build with their peers, either in pairs, threes or small groups, depending on the project. Children start off building sets together, taking it in turns to build, read the instructions or find the correct pieces. Children can work in pairs or with an adult, progressing on to building with more children. When they are ready, children can design and create models from their own imaginations in pairs or small groups.
Beyond this, there is so much scope for further projects that develop teamwork such as stop motion animation, robotics or creating amazing models on a larger scale. Brick Clubs should be facilitated by a trained adult. Their role is to guide the Brick Club members as needed.
Best practise and common pitfalls
I’ve been lucky enough to run, observe and research Brick Clubs for the past 20 years. I’ve also trained many enthusiastic and knowledgeable professionals in how to deliver LEGO brick based therapy. In all of these experiences I’ve been so impressed and delighted to see so much creativity, joy and fun in Brick Clubs all around the world.
When Brick Clubs are delivered well, they are truly special places where children have fun, make friends and use so many social and emotional skills. Some things really stand out as key to a successful Brick Club:-
- An atmosphere where fun and playfulness come first and foremost.
- Children taking the lead in what they build and who with.
- Adults who step back and allow the children to interact with each other without getting too heavily involved in each interaction.
- Plenty of LEGO sets and well-organised loose bricks with a variety of options to suit different interests and inspire creativity.
- Adults who have great understanding of the children in the sessions, an understanding of autism and a respect for neurodiversity.
Inevitably, I’ve also come across a host of misconceptions about LEGO brick based therapy. Common misunderstandings are that children must work in a group of 3 all the time, that they must always stick to the same job (allocated by the adult), and that only one person is allowed to see the instructions (this makes it really hard to know where the pieces go). These misunderstandings can result in Brick Clubs that are boring, slow and frustrating, where the children are not enjoying themselves and it’s not very fun or playful.
It emphasises the importance of training and the need for an in-depth understanding of how to facilitate the sessions. It may seem simple on the face of it, but there is a lot of nuance that you can’t appreciate in a short space of time or by downloading an information leaflet or some Engineer, Supplier, Builder cards from the internet. Educational Psychologists play a key role in raising awareness of good practise in this field and ensuring that the children access Brick Clubs that are enjoyable and effective.
Updating LEGO brick based therapy: Play Included’s Brick-by-Brick programme
Since 2004 when LEGO brick based therapy first came to the UK during my PhD research, our understanding of autism and neurodiversity has changed significantly. At Play Included, we have shifted our goals and focus for LEGO brick based therapy to recognise the importance of neurodiversity acceptance, and moving away from a deficit model of autism. We have worked with autistic consultants to embed a greater emphasis on offering positive and meaningful social opportunities in Brick Clubs, fostering a sense of belonging, acceptance and building on the strengths of neurodivergent children.
We have also worked in partnership with the LEGO Foundation to integrate their research and practise on learning through play and playful facilitation. Our updated version of LEGO brick based therapy, known as the Brick-by-Brick programme, is the culmination of this work, and we have had great feedback from children, professionals and parents. One child even told me they like Brick Club more than their tablet!
Find out more about the Brick-by-Brick programme
If you’re using LEGO brick based and would like to find out our latest thinking in the Brick-by-Brick programme do look at our website https://playincluded.com. There we have some free resources for parents and schools, as well as our professional training pathway for those wishing to become an official Brick-by-Brick facilitator.
“The children love it. When I see students come to Brick Club, it is clearly a safe space and a break from the hustle and bustle of the school day. They have the chance to come along with a friend, let o steam and have fun playing with LEGO bricks while also improving their social communication skills and confidence.”
“Some of the developments we have seen are active listening, language learning, and helping each other to problem solve. The group consistently works together to solve problems and we had a lovely session recently, where we didn’t do much building, but we talked through difficult situations and problem solving.”
LISA, SPEECH AND LANGUAGE THERAPIST
“Over time, some children actively tried to communicate and play with the others, which was the most important thing. It surprised me how much they enjoyed coming to the sessions and playing with the others towards the end of the programme. At Brick Club, we have been thrilled to see how autistic children have connected with each other with confidence. The children really enjoy coming to the sessions.”
ANA PAULA, PSYCHOLOGIST
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