Psychologist Uses Lego to Improve Social Skills in Children With Autism
Autism, a neurological condition that impairs social interaction, affects 1 in 59 children in the United States. The social and behavioral challenges of autism often prevent children on the spectrum from playing and bonding with their peers. Dr. Daniel LeGoff, a pediatric neuropsychologist, is pioneering an innovative new method to help children with autism socialize and learn: Lego. According to a report this month by Engadget.com, LeGoff uses the popular building blocks as a vehicle to encourage socialization in children with autism, by having children work together in small groups to build a Lego set. One student, the “engineer,” has the instructions and is in charge of directing the project, while another student, the “supplier,” hands the Lego parts to the “builder,” who is in charge of the actual assembly. The roles rotate among the children in the group. LeGoff’s unique form of therapy was inspired by two eight-year-old patients with Asperger’s Syndrome, whom LeGoff observed bonding over Legos In his book, “LEGO®-Based Therapy: How to build social competence through LEGO®-based Clubs for children with autism and related conditions,” LeGoff elaborates on how Lego therapy works, and how it benefits children on the autism spectrum. “LEGO-Based Therapy taps into core strengths in people with autism: their love of patterns, regularity, decomposing wholes into parts, predictability, understanding how things work, and creating variety out of structured manipulation of variables," LeGoff writes. "LEGO-Based Therapy uses such strengths in a social context, to make social learning fun and to play to the child's strengths, not their disabilities."
LeGoff has also questioned the long-term effectiveness of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy, the most widely-used intervention for autism, which revolves around providing a prompt for a behavior, and rewarding the child when they perform that action. “They think that being social is like teaching a skill, like teaching someone to tie their shoelaces," LeGoff said. "It doesn't happen that way."
In 2004, LeGoff conducted a study that showed Lego therapy led to a significant improvement in social competence within a 24-week span. In a more long-term study, conducted in 2006, LeGoff used three years worth of data to measure the social interaction of 60 Lego therapy participants with autism, compared with a control group of 57 patients, who received other therapeutic services. At the end of the study, LeGoff found that the Lego group gained 20 points on the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Socialization Domain, a test used to measure social competence, while the control group only gained 10 points.
LeGoff believes the Lego system is easier on therapists as well.
“There's a lot of communication involved, a lot of replication and duplication,” he said. “And for a therapist who's in the room to coach those interactions, there's a lot of opportunities to get it right.”
He also believes his system goes deeper than merely educating children about social interaction, as it were just another skill.
“Making friends is a quality of life issue," LeGoff was quoted as saying. "What Lego club does, at its core, is help people to function in a social environment so it will not be a limitation to them vocationally. It's not a class. It's not about 'learning' social skills. It's about becoming social people.”