Billund, Denmark, March 31, 2021: Ahead of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd, the LEGO Foundation announces their support of Play Included™ C.I.C., a UK-based social enterprise dedicated to training teachers and psychologists to use LEGO® play for therapeutic purposes as part of the successful Brick-by-Brick™ programme. The partnership is based on a shared belief that all children should have equal opportunities in life to develop the broad set of skills needed to thrive in the 21st century, such as social communication skills. The LEGO Foundation and Play Included recognise and value the unique talents of autistic children and want to help support them through the partnership. Together, they will strengthen and expand the Brick-by-Brick learning through play concept, reaching more children aged 5 years who can benefit from it.
The Brick-by-Brick programme brings children together through a shared interest in LEGO play in group settings that children call Brick Club. At Brick Club, they work together to build specific LEGO models or design and build their own freestyle LEGO creations in small teams. They take turns mastering different roles of the building process until the model is complete e.g. groups of three will be divided into an Engineer who gives the instructions, a Supplier who finds the relevant bricks, and a Builder who puts the pieces together. Since autistic children may need additional support with social communication, the Brick-by-Brick programme can help make interactions more meaningful and engaging through clear roles, rules and activities. By building and playing together the children collaborate, communicate, negotiate and problem-solve, developing friendships and creating social opportunities along the way in a safe and fun environment, guided by adults who have undergone comprehensive training in playful learning facilitation.
“At Play Included, we have been working with the evidence-based methodology behind the Brick-by-Brick programme since 2004” says Dr. Gina Gomez de la Cuesta, Founder and Director of Play Included. “There are many reasons why children may struggle with social relationships. We want to help more neurodivergent children around the world to make friends and feel a sense of belonging and connection. We’re delighted to partner with the LEGO Foundation and have lots of exciting plans for the next couple of years, such as refreshing the Brick-by-Brick programme and creating a community of practice and new tools to track progress, to name just a few. By sharing best practice, stimulating research and offering high quality resources and training, we hope to help as many young people as we can, who might benefit from this fun, engaging and effective programme.”
Brick-by-Brick Programme Benefits
While neurodivergent children can often be misunderstood due to different ways of communicating, they have the same need and desire as all other children; to feel understood, accepted and build meaningful friendships to reach their full potential and aspirations in life. Brick Clubs give them a unique and playful learning opportunity to have positive social experiences, connect with others over a shared interest, improve emotional well-being and develop friendships. Playful, social support initiatives like Brick Club can also help to reduce any negative outcomes such as social isolation and mental health problems and help build stronger societal awareness and acceptance of autism.
“It’s not just about helping CHILDREN TODAY but THE ADULTS THEY WILL BECOME TOMORROW”, says LC Groux-Moreau, Autistic adult, Consultant for the UK National Autistic Society. “Childhood development is a critical determinant of a person’s social and emotional wellbeing. This can in turn impact physical and mental health, as well as academic success and employment opportunities in adulthood.”
With national studies showing that 50-90% of young autistic adults are unemployed or severely underemployed with many experiencing mental health issues (e.g. in the UK 80% of autistic adults experience mental health issues at some point in life, against 25% of the general population*), it has never been more critical to actively support social emotional development in autistic children.
The Brick-by-Brick programme builds upon the original idea of using LEGO play with autistic children to support their social emotional development, as many often shine due to their attention to detail and skill with LEGO building. This methodology is known as LEGO Based Therapy and was developed in 2004 by Dr. Dan LeGoff, a US-based paediatric neuropsychologist, and now Ambassador of Play Included. Research into LEGO Based Therapy has shown positive outcomes for social interaction, communication, behaviour and emotional wellbeing for children and young people on the autism spectrum.
“Brick club has helped me to learn how to talk to people and not be afraid to speak out loud in a group. I have made new friends at Brick club and by learning how to join in conversations I have found it easier to talk to kids at school, go by myself to ask questions at shops and go on the bus with a friend without being anxious. Brick club is awesome because I feel more confident”, says Ben, 11, Autistic Child.
Whilst each person diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum will have their own unique profile of interests, strengths and needs, many autistic children are drawn to LEGO play, perhaps because it is a highly systematic toy and appeals to their strengths in patterns and detail. One of the acknowledged benefits of LEGO play for autistic children is the consistency in the way that LEGO bricks all fit into the same LEGO System in Play. This predictability can help children who may experience increased anxiety in social situations, e.g. if a child is expected to play with someone new. The many LEGO themes also help children practice their imaginative skills individually or in groups, and the instructions for these sets fit with the methodical way of thinking in autism allowing play to be structured and predictable, even within a social setting. There are an infinite number of creations that can be made, the possibilities are endless so each time a creation is begun, there is the desire to develop it and make it bigger and better.
“The work that Play Included has done with the Brick-by-Brick programme is inspirational, and it is a true testament to the LEGO Foundation’s philosophy of “Learning-through-Play”. Namely that meaningful, iterative, joyful, socially interactive and actively engaging teaching methods help all children to develop essential life skills such as problem solving, creativity, communication, and confidence; through the most powerful, intuitive way they know - play” says Michelle Ndebele, Play and Health Specialist at the LEGO Foundation.
“The Brick-by-Brick programme is also an inclusive concept enabling neurotypical children to learn and engage alongside their neurodivergent peers, after all, relationship building is two-way. So, we have great ambitions for this concept to secure more inclusive, playful, learning opportunities and we can’t wait to see the programme brought to more children all over the world.”
Both organisations recognise that as society, we still have a long way to go to fully understand autism and view this diagnosis in a more positive light, recognising how autistic children often have a naturally different communication style, including verbal and non-verbal, and a different way of socialising. This is the first of a series of autism related projects that the LEGO Foundation will get behind. Through partnerships and engagement with the autistic community, they hope to help raise understanding and acceptance of autism and challenge the stigma of autism diagnoses around the world.
Refreshed training, how-to-guides, new Brick Club resources and professional materials will be ready by the end of 2021. In addition, there will be a renewed and fully formalized Brick-by-Brick International Community of Practice to allow professionals to connect and share ideas. Finally, the first in a series of homebased play activities for families, to support communication, connection and relationship building, have already been developed together with autistic advisors, Play Included academic partners and LEGO employees who have a connection to autism. To download these activities, learn how your child can take part in Brick Club or to find out more about Play Included and their work with the LEGO Foundation, please visit https://playincluded.com.
Professionals interested in being trained in the Brick-by-Brick programme can sign up here for the courses launching end of 2021.