Everyone’s favourite colourful bricks, Lego, are going beyond stack and play. Studies have shown they can help children with autism improve their social skills. Soon Malaysia will have its own Lego-based autism therapy, a programme that has seen success in countries like the United States and United Kingdom.
Dr Daniel B LeGoff, the pioneer of Lego-based therapy for autism, was in Malaysia recently to share his research. Makchic breaks down all the details you need to know about the programme offered by BlokkeLabs.
AUTISM THERAPY: HOW LEGO CAME INTO THE PICTURE
As an autism therapist in 1997, Dr Daniel B Legoff discovered that children with autism experienced significant social skills improvement when exposed to Lego. The US-based clinical neuropsychologist then developed the collaborative building central to the therapy, publishing several research papers and books on its methodology and effectiveness.
ON AUTISM THERAPY TODAY
At a lecture last Saturday, Dr LeGoff said many popular forms of autism therapy used today are largely adult-directed. They failed to address a key issue for children with autism – an inability to socially develop and connect effectively with peers. This could result in loneliness in adulthood, as well as a lifetime of financial dependence on others. This, he said, is the major reason why Lego-based therapy was so effective for children with autism and its related conditions.
WHAT AUTISM THERAPY ENTAILS
The therapy allows children to form natural, self-initiated and sustained connections with their peers through a collaborative brick-building process. The process was developed over 20 years by Dr LeGoff and researchers from Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre. It requires children to communicate effectively and appropriately in order to advance through a reward system mediated by their peers.
WHAT THE RESEARCH ON CHILDREN WITH AUTISM SAYS
Studies showed the brick-building process helped children create real relationships by themselves and manage their social differences. They also learned to take responsibility for their actions. Short-term, 3-month studies showed that self-initiated contact with peers during free play increased by 69%. Assessments after 6 months showed improvements of as much as 83%. The most important measure in the studies – duration of social interaction – showed 74% increases after 3 months and a staggering 182.6% after 6 months.
HOW IT CAME TO BLOKKELABS
BlokkeTherapy Programme project leader Sheahnee Iman Lee said BlokkeLabs had researched Lego-based therapy after parents came seeking help.
“I had parents begging us to enrol their kids for our Lego Education classes. Their kids wouldn’t respond to other therapies but they loved Lego. At the time, we had no training or experience working with special needs kids so we were incredibly reluctant, concerned that we would do more harm than good.” They contacted the National Autism Society of Malaysia (Nasom) and formed a partnership to bring the therapy to Malaysia. “We took a leap of faith that Dr LeGoff would come to KL. We messaged him using all the channels we came across online, and amazingly he replied and said yes!” Lee said. Bank Rakyat then pledged to support the project, and Lego stepped in to offer the bricks needed for the project.
WHEN WILL BLOKKETHERAPY START?
The BlokkeTherapy Pilot Programme will kick-off on 24th July with a pioneering team of 6 therapists from BlokkeLabs and Nasom. They will assess a control group of 12 pre-screened children with autism and related conditions. Upon conclusion of the pilot, the programme expects to take its first students early next year. Lee said parents were already enrolling their children for January 2018. If Dr Legoff’s lecture itself is any indication (it was oversubscribed by 80 per cent), there is plenty of public interest in the programme.
For more information about the programme or BlokkeLabs, contact [email protected] or
By Nellie Liang