Lego-based therapy for children with autism endorsed by Cambridge University's Autism Research Centre
Bricks for Autism holds training at Cambridge college
‘If a you’re having fun, the you’re going to learn much more easily, to play is a really great way to learn.”
For some children playing with Lego has the power to boost their social skills and build self-esteem.
Lego-based therapy is a social development programme for children with autism spectrum disorders or related social communication difficulties.
Young people work together to build Lego models and through this can develop social skills such as turn taking, collaboration and social communication.
Now, training in this type of therapy is being offered at Jesus College in Cambridge by Gina Gomez de la Cuesta, under the banner Bricks for Autism, to professionals working in the field, including teachers, speech and language therapists, and educational and clinical psychologists.
Bricks for Autism has seen phenomenal growth in the past 18 months with delegates flying in from all around the world and requests for Dr Gomez de la Cuesta to offer the training globally.
“I think it’s all very well having a book and a manual to read but there’s nothing like having a go yourself or being taught something and having the chance to ask questions. There was lots of demand to put on more courses and we’ve had people from across the world to attend the training days,” Dr Gomez de la Cuesta told Cambridge Independent.
Initially developed by Dr Dan LeGoff, a clinical neuropsychologist in American, Lego-based therapy is now delivered around the world.
Research into the benefits of Lego-based therapy has been carried out by Dr LeGoff and Dr Gomez de la Cuesta, with further studies under way.
They released their first book in 2014 to set out the benefits they had found the therapy can have for children with autism.
Ms Gomez de la Cuesta studied the approach for her PhD at Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre, which endorses the training course, under the supervision of Professor Simon Baron-Cohen. Dr Gomez de la Cuesta was the first person to set up Lego-based therapy groups in the UK – and launched the Bricks for Autism courses after completing her clinical psychology training at the University of East Anglia.
Dr Gomez de la Cuesta explained: “The ethos is trying to use children’s interests and their strengths and what they enjoy doing, to help them with the things that they might struggle with.
“It’s learning the social skills in quite a naturalistic way. You’re building Lego with other children and working as a team, and by doing that lots of social skills are needed, and the adult can facilitate those skills in a naturalistic place rather than learning about things hypothetically and then trying to put it into practice in a real-life situation.
“The children are learning the social skills while being in a real-life situation and able to practise those with other kids as the therapy is working. That makes it easier to learn as you’re learning as you’re doing it.”
She added: “It’s hugely important because you’re having fun, you’re going to learn much more easily – to play is a really great way to learn. Quite often, children with autism are the ones that are in trouble, they’re not doing so well, so having something where they can achieve and do something really well, or do something that’s fun and enjoyable can be incredibly empowering for them.
“Often, they’re excluded or a bit socially isolated, so feeling like they belong to a club that they feel a part of, and feel a sense of ownership of, is really valuable.”
Dr Gomez de la Cuesta, who started off working as a teacher, has also worked as Action Research Leader for the National Autistic Society. She is excited about how popular the training courses have become and is looking forward to the future where she hopes the therapy will become more widely available. But she’s also keen for there to be more research into the benefits of Lego-based therapy.
“It’s really exciting. Now, I’ve qualified I’ve got more time. I think it’s great because my aim, and my goal, for setting up Bricks for Autism was to make this approach more widely available to children and to help the children. If it’s gathering interest all over the place, then that’s exciting.
“I feel thrilled that more kids are getting access to something that might be helpful for them. I feel like we need the research to go alongside the clinical practice so as well training professionals on how to do it, we also keen for more research to evaluate how this practice is working.
“This approach was developed with autism in mind, but I think anecdotally people are trying it with children who might for other reasons struggle socially, maybe they are anxious or have attachment difficulties, or maybe struggling socially for all sorts of reasons, and this could be a fun way to help them too.
“I get really excited by doing things that are positive, innovative and a bit playful – interventions that are child-led rather than adult-led, making things fun and engaging.”
Gina is conducting a survey online to explore how people use Lego bricks to develop social skills; she would welcome participants.
For more about Bricks for Autism courses visit, bricks-for-autism.co.uk.