The Theory Behind Play Therapy
“Play is the work of childhood,” by which Maria Montessori meant that children learn through play. When children play they expand and better understand their world. They pretend, role play different characters and through experimentation, imaginative play, physical activity and sports, social interaction, and observation, children practice using spoken language and behaving in expected ways. Children learn how to follow rules, collaborate with others, take turns, and work toward a shared goal.
Children with autism play very differently from their typical peers. They tend to play alone or engage in parallel play (two children doing the same thing, but each on his or her own). Whilst autistic children may play games, they often have great difficulty with collaboration, turn taking, or working toward a shared goal. In addition to playing differently, most children with autism have specific play patterns or routines that they repeat over and over again in identical ways. If they are asked to try something new, they may become terribly upset because they find repetition calming, while change can be anxiety provoking.
In play therapy there is an attempt to help autistic children to overcome challenges by building on existing interests to expand communication, imagination, and social skills.
LEGO is very popular amongst children including autistic children.
Lego offers a simple, predictable, repeatable activity that can be accomplished alone without outside help. They are also part of a system of toys that look and behave in similar ways. LEGOs also offer the added bonuses of needing strong fine motor skills and significant hand strength, good spatial, visual, and analytical skills.
Dr. Daniel LeGoff started experimenting with LEGO therapy in 2003. He noticed that many autistic children are already drawn to and love LEGO. His idea was to create an effective social and skills program that could be used in multiple settings and be transferable to real-world peer interactions.
The goal of LEGO therapy is to build the types of skills that can help autistic children better engage with peers, share experiences, and collaborate. This means that the children who are likely to benefit from LEGO therapy are already at least somewhat verbal and able to follow both visual and verbal instructions.
In the most basic form of LEGO therapy, children work in a group, taking the following roles:
An adult facilitator works with the group as needed to encourage problem-solving, communication, and engagement.
LEGO therapy is built around existing therapies. It is risk free meaning it won’t hurt and will likely help your child to build skills and possibly meaningful friendships built around common interests. Adults and providers can alter how it is delivered so that the children can better access the tasks. But no therapy is always successful for every child, and much depends on the chemistry of a group and its facilitator. It comes as no surprise that some children will come away with improved skills while others won’t.
You’re more likely to see positive outcomes if your child:
Before you start you need to find out what the outcomes of the therapy will be. Also whether you think that your child is ready for this more advanced form of play therapy.