Sunday, March 23, 2008
Lego Therapy For CHildren With Autism
I read an article that may be of interest to anyone who has, or works with, children with autism spectrum disorders.
Children with autism usually have some degree of difficulty with social skills. Just basic communication may be difficult, but even for kids who are able to speak, understanding what to talk about, when, and with whom, can be very hard to learn. Often, kids with autism want very badly to have friends, but just do not know how to make connections with other children.
The problem is, social skills are a very hard group of skills to actually teach to kids. Other children typically pick up social skills naturally, without needing to be formally taught. But for kids with autism, just picking this type of thing up isn't so easy. Some kids with autism go to special groups or classes to practice talking to each other, asking questions, using manners, etc. However, social skills groups and classes can be sort of contrived. And the formal curriculum of social skills taught to kids is often more like super- polite adult social skills, instead of the types of social skills that would help a nine-year-old to make friends on the playground at school.
Now, imagine a different kind of group... a group of children working together, under the guidance of therapists and other trained adult helpers, on a project involving Legos. They are trying to make a type of animated movie, by snapping many different photos of Legos in different positions, and then putting the photos together. All of the kids are interested and involved in the job, and all of them speak to each other and work together to get the job done. When one child seems to withdraw, or seems to be having trouble finding his place in the group, an adult helper gently helps fold the child back into the group.
All of the children in this group have autism. The group is meant to help them learn social skills, in a more natural setting than typical social skills group.
The group, called the Lego Club to the kids but also known as Lego Therapy, was created by Dr. Dan Legoff. While working with kids with autism, especially boys, Legoff (whose Lego-like name is just a coincidence) noticed that the kids he worked with didn't seem to be interested in most of the toys he had in his office. However, they did seem to be interested in Legos! Often, kids would come to their appointments carrying Lego creations they had made at home. Legoff also noticed that, while waiting in the waiting room for their appointments, Lego-loving kids, even those who usually were shy and had trouble initiating conversations, would start talking to each other about Legos.
Legoff did something that I wish more people who worked with kids with autism would do. He took this interest in Legos, and tried to find a way to use it to help the kids. Thats when he created the Lego Club! It The Lego Club is a very structured group, where members have a hierarchy. The children are assigned roles, with the higher roles belonging to kids who have been in the club the longest and worked the hardest. Together, the kids come up with project ideas that involve Legos, and then work together to make them into reality.
The Lego Club is a program of the Center for Neurological and Neurodevelopmental Health, in Voorhees, New Jersey. As of now, the new Jersey program is probably the only existing Lego Therapy program. Because it is novel, can be expensive, and doesn't have proven results yet, the program hasn't really caught on in other places. But, even if the medical community doesn't embrace Lego Therapy, perhaps parents, teachers, and mentors of children with autism will think about creating their own Lego clubs!