When my kids were finally old enough for LEGOs, I was glad.
Pretty much everything about LEGO is awesome.
What was interesting (though not totally surprising) was how beneficial LEGO play seemed to be for my 6-year-old who has autism.
Interestingly enough, some serious studies are now being done to develop LEGO-based therapy for children with autism.
It makes a lot of sense:
- It is engaging
- Works off his strengths
- Stealthily challenges his weaknesses
- Develops fine motor skills
- Fosters social interaction
- Natural payoff
Let’s face it, LEGOs are just plain cool. In contrast to some other activities, It does not require a lot of persuasion from a parent for a child to want to play LEGOs. It is fun, challenging and rewarding. Play-based intervention, like that proposed in Greenspan’s Floortime model requires the therapist/parent to first engage a child in order to allow him/her to open circles of communication. LEGOs engage a child so naturally that other challenges faced during playtime are more likely to be overcome
One really cool thing about LEGO play is that it allows him to work off of his strengths. This automatically makes him more comfortable and willing to conquer more challenges that arise during play. With problem solving and step-by-step directions at the center of kit-building, many children who have autism find themselves in their comfort zones right from the get-go.
Because he has strong skills at the foundation of the activity, he is more balanced psychologically and physically and therefore more likely to participate in behaviors that are often challenging for children with autism like creativity, imaginative play and socialization. I watched my son today pick up his model at various stages of construction and imagine what the half-built project “looks like.”
“A Policeman!” he shouts… which garners a chuckle from me followed by a “What are you laughing at?” in his best baritone policeman voice. To watch such spontaneous imaginative play from him is an amazing and valuable experience.
One of the challenges often faced by those with Autism or other ASDs is troublesome fine motor skills. Many try to intervene here with coloring/drawing, but our son has never been very interested in coloring (as opposed to his big sister who’s had a pencil attached to her right hand since she was about six months old). I believe that LEGO play has been one activity that is so engaging that he is willing to focus on those fine motor skills and they’ve improved overall as a result. He handles each of those tiny pieces with such dexterity it is hard to imagine just months ago he wouldn’t even grasp a pencil.
For those using LEGO play as actual therapy, one of the primary emphases is on social interaction. One might imagine that a potential negative of an activity like LEGOs for an individual with autism is that he might be so engrossed in solving the puzzle that he would shut out everyone else entirely. Studies have shown otherwise though. When attacking a LEGO set as a group, studies have shown increased self-initiated social contact among those observed not only during therapy sessions, but also spilling over into other social settings as well.
It is hard to find a more satisfying payoff than a completed LEGO set. With every piece in place and a tangible reward and excited parents, the child can’t help but learn the value of working off his strengths and pushing through the challenges faced along the way. There is no need for manipulated behavioral modification, just organic learning at its best.
I work from my strengths
I meet the challenges along the way
I’m rewarded with a finished product and cheers from loved ones
I could go on and on about the benefits of that payoff.
How a finished set is then a creative toy with unlimited opportunity for pretend play.
and the fact that a big bin of assorted LEGOs has the potential for unlimited creative thinking.
Besides all of that, it is a fun activity that just about any parent can enjoy with just about any kid.
So turn off the TV and go find some LEGOs.
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