Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder struggle with inappropriate or delayed social skills, fine motor skills, group skills, communication skills, attention skills, play skills, and more. Professionals from many fields are involved in the care of children with ASD including speech therapists, occupational therapists, mental health therapists (including play therapists), behavior analysts, pediatricians, special education teachers, and others.
I love when I see how professionals can work together to provide optimal services to youth. We all come from different backgrounds, with different experiences, different areas of expertise, different personal perspectives, and so much uniqueness yet sometimes we get set in our ways and so proud of our own discipline that we forget that others might have valid opinions, intervention suggestions, and treatment models, as well.
This is not to say that just anyone’s ideas can be used to treat any disorder or concern. Of course, there are some things that should take more weight than others, especially when strong evidence has shown its effectiveness. I am simply stating that it is admirable when disciplines come together to create a great treatment approach for children with Autism or for really any child.
Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence-based practice for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, other therapists (speech, OT’s, play therapists) can also have beneficial insights to assist in the treatment of those youth.
An article I came across, “Lego Play Therapy Benefits Children with Autism,” discussed how “Lego Therapy” has been used to help children with Autism. In this article, the author, Janet Maydem, Occupational Therapist and Disabilities Writer, discusses how play therapy is the approach used during Lego Therapy. Legos were the materials used to facilitate the children’s progress on particular goals primarily social skills and play skills.
Meydam states that Legos “offer a highly routine, repetitive, structured form of play that many children with autism find appealing.” Children with Autism often like activities that are to be performed a specific way and many children with Autism have cognitive abilities that allow them to complete a step by step process of building a LEGO creation. Others benefit from the opportunity for creativity development with the infinite possibilities that Legos allow.
It is important to consider the scientific evidence for interventions that are selected for children with Autism (and other children and adults, as well). Meydam provides the following evidence from the scientific literature for the benefits of using Legos with children with ASD:
“Research on LEGO play therapy was recently conducted at the University of Cambridge. This study focused on children with both autism and Asperger Disorder, and found that children who participated in LEGO therapy showed improvement in social skills. Research into the value of using LEGO as a part of play therapy are well documented.
Another study conducted in 2008 evaluated social skills interventions for 6-11 year olds, including LEGO therapy. Children with autism were randomly assigned to intervention groups and therapy was provided for 1 hour per week over 18 weeks. Researchers found that the LEGO therapy group displayed more improvement than the other groups on autism-related social interaction scores.
A report published in Autism in 2006 studied the long term outcomes of LEGO therapy for children with autism. Children with autism who participated in LEGO therapy were compared to children with autism who participated in another form of therapy. The children who received LEGO therapy showed significantly more improvement on outcomes measures than the non-LEGO group.”
As I mentioned, it’s important to rely on scientific evidence when providing services to individuals with ASD. To date, applied behavior analysis is the treatment with the strongest research support, so ABA is the most highly recommended approach for individuals with autism. Within ABA, there are many skills that can be taught. In doing so, various material items will be used to increase skill acquisition. If you decide to include legos (or another form of block play) in your ABA services, following are a few tips to consider.
TIPS FOR USING LEGOS WITH CHILDREN WITH ASD:
In order to facilitate positive change in children with Autism, follow these tips.
- Identify the jobs involved in building with Legos as a group (such as one person can sort the blocks, one person can read and state the directions, one person can put pieces together, etc.)
- Work on turn-taking skills and sharing
- Work on communication skills by prompting children to use polite, appropriate language (which includes requesting Legos appropriately, using multiple word requests, using manners-if the child is at this point with his communication skills, etc.)
- Provide reinforcement for appropriate behavior (depending on the child’s preferred reinforcers, you can provide praise, edibles, or tokens for specific goals)
As I mentioned, this article sparked my appreciation for disciplines sharing their expertise. I used to focus my career and education on play therapy while more recently I have turned toward Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). In this article, the author describes a play therapy approach to working with kids with Autism, but I certianly see the ABA-related information in the article, as well.
I work with children with Autism and we work on many of the goals specified in this article including communication and social skills (including turn-taking, sharing, etc.). ABA also uses “rewards” (although we don’t tend to call them by that name, instead we would use the term “reinforcers” for what this article refers to as “rewards”). ABA also uses praise and tries to strengthen the use of praise as a reinforcer to get the child to participate more in a particular behavior. In ABA, we also work on helping children with transitions and adjusting to changes in the routine or coping (i.e. “behaving appropriately”) when things don’t go the way they want them to. See the following excerpt:
“LEGO therapy groups encourage collaboration, pretending, and non-verbal communication. These groups can also provide participants with a system of rewards and praise when changes to the building project are completed, allowing a child to successfully break from routine, repetitive patterns. This process helps children with autism develop creative responses and improved coping patterns when faced with changes in routine.”
So, as I see it, we can all be proud of our own disciplines, but we should use ideas from each other to help the kids we work with to the best of our ability. We should use evidence-based and research-supported interventions, but if we think outside the box, if we develop our own creativity, maybe we can come up with even greater interventions that will allow us to give our children all that much more success.
In my case, it’s possible that I could facilitate greater skill development in the children that I work with when I consider using ideas from another discipline (such as certain ways of using Legos in a group) while also sticking to the ethical guidelines of my field of ABA and providing services in the framework that I am licensed to provide.
[image credit: Marzanna Syncerz via Fotalia]