Lego-Based Therapy

August 4, 2022

Yesterday I was quite excited to attend a Lego-Based Therapy course run by Keith Houghton (assistant Ed Psych) with a view to learning about Lego-Based Therapy (LBT). Lego has been a huge part of my family with my brother being very taken with the coloured plastic bricks and then 2 of my sons also designing, building and making up the prescribed sets. I’ve loved the endless creative possibilities and used it to help my children learn to spell, understand fractions of amounts and so many other learning experiences. I have a few large boxes in the garage that aren’t being used anymore (my sons have other interests now and my daughter isn’t at all interested).

What to do with the boxes of Lego?

Should I donate them?

Or maybe learn something new to do with them?

This is how I found myself booked onto Keith’s course on a Wednesday morning during my holidays.

Keith explained the history of LBT as having been developed by the neuropsychologist Dr. Daniel LeGoff after a chance observation in a waiting room between 2 autistic children who had shown no interest in each other until they saw some Lego pieces after which they were able to communicate through using the Lego. Dr. Legoff saw this and wondered if this could work for other autistic children or those with social and communication difficulties. Dr. Legoff saw, in action, Attwood’s concept of ‘Constructive application’ (1998) that using the well-known medium of Lego the children were motivated and this interest and motivation could be built upon to change behaviour.

LBT is a therapy and not just a time for children to get together to build random creations. The sessions are highly structured in order to focus on the specific targets that the children participating might have (these come from LBT assessments or are from other identified assessments). These will be social difficulties such as turn-taking, team work, problem solving, communication etc. The 3 defined roles of the therapy session: engineer, builder and supplier along with how the roles are enacted gives the sessions a predicability and format that works for many autistic children who thrive on the known and become anxious with the unknown.

It is definitely not just sitting around with a few children making stuff out of Lego while having a ‘bit of a chat.’

It’s so much more than that.

I, along with many other SENCO’s on the course, have pupils in the school I work in that would benefit from a targeted approach to learning and practising social skills. A LBT group would be the perfect place to do this because to practice social skills we need to be social in order to have a go and see the impact of what we’ve said or how we’ve behaved in a safe and supported environment. Often those with social communication difficulties can’t easily interpret non-verbal communication or verbal communication so to have a therapist/teacher within the group helping and facilitating I can definitely see the benefits.

I was concerned about the length of the sessions and would like to talk to others who run LBT groups within a school setting to see how they manage to provide a 1:1/1:2/1:3 intervention for at least a continuous hour a week. Ideally the sessions are 70 minutes but Keith did say that a sessions could run with an hour but definitely not less than an hour. As I have a few children who would benefit I am keen to do more learning over the holidays with a view to setting up a group at the beginning of the Autumn Term. There is just me and one (fabulous) TA and I’m only there 3 days (2 of which are solid paperwork days) and my TA is only contracted to work from 9am-3.15pm. You can see how I’m concerned as to how it will work.

I also have concerns about the rewards system that is part of the format of a LBT session. When I first trained as a teacher, over 20 years ago, there was a focus on offering children rewards for desired behaviours and achievement of work. I’ve since read widely about how rewards systems don’t help develop intrinsic motivation and, in fact, stop it (Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn is a great book to start reading about this). A reward can alter behaviour in the short term but the new behaviour may not last if the reward is stopped or withdrawn. This is counterproductive. A child may also ask, when required to do something, ‘What will I get if I do?’ because they have been trained to expect a reward after completing a task. This is something that I would want to avoid when working with autistic pupils or those with social communication difficulties; I don’t want to ‘train’ them and reward them in a way that makes behaviour dependent on the reward. (Children can also be so fixated on the reward that task in hand and the immediate goal can be totally forgotten because all they can think of is the sticker.) Having said this Keith did say you can adapt the reward to suit your group so this is something I will be thinking about as I read more.

To round up my thoughts I do think LBT sounds a great idea in principle. A targeted intervention on specific aspects of the social world that pupils find challenging using a fun resource that many will have experience and already use and love is always going to be a good idea. Modelling desired behaviours, talking about them and pointing them out when they occur in a small group situation is also fantastic and will definitely benefit the children involved. It’s just the behavioural model of using rewards that I’m not too sure about. I think it’s always good to question what you’re learning and to evaluate things for yourself even if you do end back at the same starting point!

I have ordered 2 books to read over the next couple of weeks: Lego-Based Therapy: How to build a social competence through Lego-based clubs for children with autism and related conditions by Simon Baron-Cohen, Daniel Legoff, Gina Gomez de la Cuesta and GW Krauss and How Lego-Based Therapy for autism works: Landing on my Planet by Daniel Legoff. As a final aside, I do have an issue with the title of the second of the 2 books I’ve just mentioned; ‘Landing on my planet’ seems to insinuate that the autistic person in question isn’t already on the same planet or that they need help to land on the planet of the neurotypical. Either way this sets up the autistic brain as being ‘other’ than typical and something quite different as being described as being on another planet. It’s a very ‘them and us’ standpoint. As I haven’t yet read the book I’m hoping I’m proved wrong in my assumptions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Latest from Blog

Autism And Best Friends

Best friends. I had a best friend at school who was really my only friend. Sure, I knew many people and was

Autism And Pregnancy

The next few blogs I’ve written are the ones I’ve wanted to write for years but couldn’t. The shame that I felt