Top Ways to Use Lego Blocks for Purposeful Play With Autism

Some people believe they are not ‘good’ at playing with Lego® blocks, others prefer other toys or activities, but very few people really dislike it.

Top Ways to Use Lego Blocks for Purposeful Play With Autism https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/ways-lego-purposeful-play-autism/

Traditionally Lego has been seen as a toy, however, this is not necessarily the case anymore. Lego is increasingly being used as a tool to encourage and develop creativity, improve language and communication, and teach and enhance team-building skills. I have used them with many ages, in schools, homes, and businesses.

Working as an Autism Advisory Teacher for schools previously, I was trained to use Lego-Therapy; structured activity-based sessions that can develop social and communication skills in children with autism. This form of play therapy was originally reported in the research literature by Dr. Daniel LeGoff (2004) and later further researched by Gina Owens and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen (2008) at the Autism Research Centre, Cambridge, UK.

The structured sessions appear to appeal to children and young people with autism and staff in schools could access Lego easily. Over the years of planning and delivering sessions, I started to develop further ideas and working alongside some extremely talented professionals and brilliant parents. I was able to adapt and enhance Lego activities to suit the needs of the children and the environment they found themselves in.

Building Blocks for Communication

Lego as a tool is extremely suited to those who are logical thinkers. Those who like structure, predictability, and rules find it a safe medium in which to explore their creativity and construct their thoughts. Lego somehow provides a way in which those who struggle to communicate, can. It is not just their ideas that they are able to communicate, but also their thoughts, their perceptions, and their processes.

So, Lego blocks can be used in so many ways to help connect with others, and as a means of communication. Think of it as the real-world Instagram™—a way to create and present the pictures of your world.

The activities I developed use Lego blocks to help promote different types of communication; technical language, social and emotional communication, and social interactive skills. The activities range from individual, stand-alone games to suit those that have little time but plenty of enthusiasm, and also a series of activities for use over longer periods of time, with groups or individuals. Each activity has an aim; a speech, language or communication ‘goal,’ but the process and the ‘feel’ of the activities are strictly informal and fun. Although structure appeals to many young people I see, pressure and the sense of forced collaboration do not.

Lego play can be useful both at school and at home. The activities allow for family members to come together to collaborate and create using a tool that is familiar and fun.

Here are a few activities to try with your family. These are basic outlines; they are designed to be adapted to suit many people, so feel free to change some of the details.

Lego to help with conversation

Here is an example of using Lego blocks to improve making those important connections:

Amy, what I want to talk to you about is going to be hard for me so I’d like to build as we chat. I know it is appropriate to try to give eye contact during discussions and I know this will be hard for me. I know it is more appropriate if I am looking at something I am building; you will be less likely to find me rude, so I thought that would be a good strategy.” (15 yr old student)

Think of Lego on these occasions as a processing tool. Some people process thoughts better if they are ‘doing’ whilst talking and Lego can be a successful tool if used in this way.

What to do:

  • Put a pile of Lego blocks on the table/floor.
  • Start to build and encourage those with you to build anything they like.
  • When ready, start a conversation. Keep focused on the Lego and don’t worry about long pauses or needing to do this a few times before the chat gets going.

Lego for playing together

Sort It

What to do:

  • Put a pile of Lego blocks on the table/ floor.
  • Explain you are going to sort them.
  • Encourage discussion around how to sort. Point out there is not a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to sort Lego blocks, and there may be different ideas. Examples may be by color, shape, number of studs, etc.
  • Start sorting together, discussing the pieces and which piles/ boxes they should go in.
  • Use visual cards if needed (g. color/number cards) to distinguish the different criteria for sorting.

Buzz in Game

What to do:

  • Put a pile of Lego blocks on the table/ floor.
  • Each person decides on a personal ‘buzz’ sound. This can be any noise or sound, or you may decide to have buzzers.
  • Player 1 describes a piece from the pile. If the other players think they know which piece is being described they should ‘buzz’ in. The player that guesses correctly gets the next go, and the person describing the piece gets to keep the piece he/she successfully described.
  • Continue the game, encouraging innovative descriptive terms and modeling the use of new words if needed.
  • Build a model with the pieces collected throughout the game.
  • You can play this game without any spoken words—use picture cards or a visual mat showing colors, numbers, etc. Communication can be through pictures only.

Listen and Build

What to do:

  • Put a pile of Lego blocks on the table/floor
  • Write out a set of instructions on a piece of paper or card. Start simple. g., 1) Build a model using 3 blue bricks, 8 red bricks and 2 bricks with four studs on.
  • Each person gets to create and read out the instructions for the rest of the group. You may decide to give ‘awards’ for the most creative models.
  • Start to make the instructions more abstract, g., build a model using all of the colors you are currently wearing.
  • Put a time limit on the building of the model to keep the pace of the activity or spend a lot of time on just one model and repeat the activity with someone else being in charge of the instructions on another occasion. 

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Lego for sharing thoughts and feelings

Persuade me with pieces

What to do:

  • Put a pile of Lego blocks on the table/ floor.
  • Explain there will be a dilemma and they will have to construct a solution which they will share with the rest of the group. This may be related to a historical or topical event, or it could be something from a story. Some examples may be:
  1. A character in a story is stuck on an island surrounded by shark-infested waters and needs help to construct a suitable piece of equipment to help them get off the island.
  2. A car designer wants to produce a vehicle that will transport eight people comfortably and safely whilst providing entertainment for the children on long journeys.
  • Each person shows his/her model and explains the main features of the design. Think about how to make your voice and body language persuasive and confident.

Colorful Feelings

What to do:

  • Put a pile of Lego blocks on the table/floor. Have one mini-figure each.
  • Talk about feelings whilst playing with the Lego blocks. Talk about names of emotions, what they might feel like in our body and when we might feel them. Talk about what happens when we feel them and how different people react to different feelings.
  • You may want to write the names of feelings on a large piece of paper, using a different color for each feeling.
  • Allow each person to decide which color will go with each feeling for them. It is okay if these colors are different for each person.
  • If needed, the adults may have to model examples. g., someone may get disappointed if they don’t get picked to answer a question in class.
  • Each person should collect a pile of bricks of each color, putting them on their paper on top of the corresponding feeling.
  • Each person should build an event or memory using the corresponding color bricks to show his/her main feelings during this event. g., a birthday or first day at a new home. (You may want to start with a ‘positive’ feeling.)
  • Once completed, each person should describe his/her model, using the figure to represent themself, ‘walking’ it through their is/her scenario.
  • Repeat the activity with a different feeling.

 Top tips for your activities:

  • Think of it as structured play—know what you want to teach but keep it fun.
  • Allow time to learn—repeating activities will increase confidence.
  • Keep activities short initially, increasing the length of time as they become familiar.
  • Adapt to your family—there is no ‘right’ way.
  • Include free play as well as structured activities.
  • Give the children some control—play their games their way!
  • Model it—do it first to show the children what to expect

Conclusion

Lego can be a useful tool to connect with others. We use it regularly in my organization and many families I know use it as part of their ‘toolkit of ideas.’

I would recommend having a go, keeping it simple and having fun. The bricks bring the structure, but it is your knowledge of your child or family member that will make it successful.

Acknowedgements:

Eleftheriades, A (2015) Building Blocks for Communication; Activities for Promoting Language and Communication Skills in Children with Special Educational Needs, Routledge, London

LeGoff, D. (2004), Use of LEGO© as a Therapeutic Medium for Improving Social Competence Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders October 2004, Volume 34, Issue 5, pp 557–571

Owens G1Granader YHumphrey ABaron-Cohen S, LEGO therapy and the social use of language programme: an evaluation of two social skills interventions for children with high functioning autism and Asperger Syndrome. J Autism Dev Disord. 2008 Nov;38(10):1944-57. doi: 10.1007/s10803-008-0590-6. Epub 2008 Jun 20.

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This article was featured in Issue 87 – Building ASD Awareness and Communication

Amy Eleftheriades

Amy Eleftheriades ,PGCE, MEd in SEND is from the UK and has enjoyed over 20 years working in a range of social care and education settings. She is a qualified teacher with a MEd SEND, specializing in autism and social communication difficulties. Amy lives at home in Norwich, UK with her husband, their young daughter and their bouncy dog. After many years working in both public and private settings, in 2012 Amy decided to become independent, setting up Alpha Inclusion Ltd. Amy and her team work with young people, their families, and professionals in education, health and social care settings.They also provide services to the Commercial Sector, with The Block Bus™ being utilized to deliver Lego activities at Corporate Events and Team Building and Wellbeing sessions for businesses.Profits from these services are re-invested to provide ongoing care and support for children, young people, and their families.Amy has written three books as well as a number of articles for SEND magazines. Her book, Building Block for Communication; Activities for Promoting Language and Communication Skills in Children with Special Educational Needs (Routledge) includes further Lego activities for use at home and school. Her most recent book Social Survival; A manual for those with Autism and other logical thinkers (Routledge, 2018) offers an insight into the social world for young people with high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

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