LEGO® therapy was developed as a social skills program in 2004 by Daniel B. LeGoff, a Canadian-born licensed pediatric neuropsychologist. The purpose of the program was to use children’s natural interest in play to help behavioural challenges, increase social competency and improve communication skills. There is documentation of previous studies using Lego therapy interventions. For example, Altman and Esber (1995) used LEGO®-based therapy on nine adolescents between the ages 11 and 16 with severe disruptive behaviour disorders. Altman and Esber highlighted the effects of the intervention on attention and collaborative work.
Now, you might be wondering “Ok, but why LEGO®?”. The story goes like this…
One day, Daniel LeGoff observed two of his clients. Both 8 years old and diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (we know today that this is no longer considered a diagnosis on its own), play excitedly and talking together in the waiting room. They both had brought LEGO® creations to the clinic, and as one was leaving and the other was arriving, they ran into each other. In previous interactions, these children had exhibited very little interest in each other. This time, parents agreed on letting their children work together while using their LEGO® sets. Daniel LeGoff’s clients cooperated fully and started developing social skills such as turn taking and sustaining eye contact. Compliance was not a problem as long as they were allowed to play with their LEGO® sets (LeGoff et al, 2004).
LEGO® based therapy is a form of mixed naturalistic developmental behavioural intervention conceived based on the natural interest of children, particularly those with ASD. This therapeutic intervention promotes collaboration between the participants, interdependence, common goals, turn-taking, group results, mutual respect, positive moods, and appreciation for each other’s work.
According to Gallo-Lopez and Rubin (2012), LEGO® based therapy can be allocated among the so-called play-based interventions. LEGO® based interventions uses playful methods to target other social outcomes. The types of interventions that Lego therapy shares with other play-based interventions include (Gibson, Pritchard, & Lemos, 2020):
Social Skills Group
Behavioural, social and communication challenges of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Using objects in unusual ways, and developing uncommon attachments to objects
Anxiety, social withdrawal, and depression
Using idiosyncratic strategies for self-regulation (e.g., hand flapping), and unconventional behavioural and emotional expressions (e.g., tantrums).
Using repetitive patterns of behaviour.
Deficits in social competency are also a defining characteristic of individuals with ASD. Deficits in this area can affect a child’s ability to share with others, take turns in a conversation, make appropriate eye-contact, follow social rules, and understanding unspoken rules.
Children with ASD can also exhibit communication deficits both in the ability to produce (expressive) and understand language (receptive).
Seven areas of deficits are identified including:
Delayed impaired acquisition of words, word combinations and syntax
Deficits in use and understanding of nonverbal and verbal communication
Vocal development deficits
Symbolic play deficits
Executive functioning deficits
What happens in LEGO therapy?
The most common used method of LEGO therapy involves at least three participants. Each of the participants plays a role which could be “supplier”, “builder”, and “engineer”.
Supplier: Locates and retrieves the blocks as instructed by the engineer. This participant interprets the instructions and determines which pieces are needed for each step.
Builder: Assembles the blocks according to the instructions of the engineer.
Engineer: Describes the bricks to the supplier, explains the builder how to build the model, answers questions, and makes sure the model is built correctly.
Facilitator: The adult running the program offers ideas and strategies to support the group.
What age is LEGO therapy suitable for?
Lindsay and Cassiani’s (2017) scoping review, which included 15 studies involving a total of 293 participants between the ages of 5-16 (mean age 8.7 years), reported improvement in at least one of the following areas:
making new friends
A systematic review conducted by Narzisi et al (2021) which included 19 studies published over a 16-year period revealed positive outcomes including the empowerment of social skills in the treated subjects, a positive impact on autistic symptoms such as aloofness and rigidity, enhancement in verbal communication abilities and improved family relationships.
How do you carry out LEGO therapy?
There are certain specific rules to be followed during the implementation of LEGO therapy. This information can be found in the book “Lego Based Therapy” by Daniel LeGoff, where he provides detailed information about the origins of this intervention and the specifics of how to implement it.
Participants who don’t have the ability to engage in verbal communication yet will not participate in groups until they can understand the rules and display appropriate behavior.
The rules are explained and displayed in the therapy room so participants can monitor their behavior.
If you break something, you have to fix it, or ask for help to fix it
If someone is using something, do not grab it, ask first.
Speak quietly and do not scream
Keep your hands and feet close to your body
Use kind words
Clean the materials and place them where they were
Do not put the pieces in your mouth
How long should a LEGO therapy session be?
Your final considerations should include, that even though LEGO® therapy has been widely accepted and disseminated, we should keep in mind that the literature demonstrating the positive effects of this intervention is still quite limited and mixed. Therefore, it is advised to combine LEGO® therapy with other conventional interventions to ensure better results. These sessions will therefore be a duration of a traditional session. With the support of noala, find out how we can support you and your family.
LeGoff, D. B., Gomez De La Cuesta, G., Krauss, G. W., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2014). LEGO-Based Therapy: How to build social competence through Lego-Based Clubs for children with autism and related conditions. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.