Does LEGO Therapy Work? A Look at Autism, Creativity, and Connection
Lego is a popular toy for child development and entertainment but can also serve as an important learning tool for adolescents.
As a psychologist who works with family, kids, teens, and adults on the Autism Spectrum, I use Lego in my private practice to build social connections and team-building skills.
For those who may be new to learning about Autism, an Autism Spectrum brain allows for superior pattern recognition and hyperfocus that we refer to as “Freight Train Brain.”
If the brain is wired for a superior special interest, such as Lego, then the social world becomes less important.
This can cause problems with building social connections with others as they become hyperfocused on one thing. Tools such as Lego can help reorient the focus and teach people on the Spectrum to build those connections.
Lego has become a super embedded part of our culture and seems to be increasing in popularity not only with kids but adults as well. Adults connect with the various projects you can build and I’m sure the nostalgia of our childhood is also relevant.
The History of Lego
Ole Kirk Kristiansen first founded the Lego Group in 1932. The name “Lego” is an abbreviate of two Danish words “leg godt”, which means “play well.”
The Lego Group is a family-owned company and has passed from father to son throughout the decades.
The Lego group is now owned by the grandchild of the founder, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen. The company has continued to grow over the past 85 years and is now one of the world’s top toy manufacturers.
The most prominent product to date is the LEGO brick. The current model of the brick has been popular since its original launch in 1958.
In 1963, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, son of Ole Kirk Kristiansen, presented the LEGO group with the first 10 product characteristics: unlimited play potential, for girls and for boys, fun for every age, year-round play, healthy, quiet play, long hours of play, development, imagination, creativity, extra sets available, and quality in every detail.
Lego & Autism
The first psychological study regarding LEGO’s was conducted in 1973 by German psychology Karin Gossmann. Gossmann wrote a book titled “Mach merh aus LEGO” that aimed to study 200 children and their play with LEGO bricks.
Build & Share is a company that combines the use of LEGO with storytelling and aspects of positive psychology to foster individual understandings of values, characters’ strengths, team identity, and positive aspirations.
Build & Share was founded on the principle that people can use their hands to construct patterns and models based on personal knowledge and relate that to well-being.
Using LEGO’s to build then led to a new medium in which participants can express feelings, creativity, and expressive thinking. The Build & Share method takes place within a facilitated group setting.
This method fosters a 3-step process:
- Questions that explore
- Building meaning
- Sharing & Reflection.
An example of this process would include building something that “represents a part of you when you feel things are going well in your work-life”.
Participants then create a model that represents the statement by utilizing their own knowledge, hands, and experience. Lastly, participants share their model and story with the group.
Clinical psychologist Daniel LeGoff saw that children with ASD and various other types of neurobehavioral disorders naturally gravitated towards Lego when presented with a room full of toys.
LeGoff then went on to implement Lego in a therapeutic method that reinforced socially appropriate behaviors.
In contrast, Jean Rutterberg, of the Autism Center in Philadelphia, claims that Lego therapy does not have the ability to help children with more severe and complex cases of Autism.
Harn and Hsiao (2018) utilized Six Bricks and Lego Serious Play to examine workplace strains and investigate how this method can reduce stress.
Seven employed individuals ages 35-55 underwent LEGO-based workplace stress reduction (LBWSR) that lasted 150 minutes. Pretests and posttests with additional open-ended questions were administered to analyze the effect of the LBWSR.
Prior to the LBWSR participants constructed a stress-figure from LEGO DUPLO bricks and Six Bricks. Participants then modified the stress figures to change their stress after the workshop.
Results revealed that the LBWSR has a significant effect on reducing work-related anxiety but did not immediately influence fatigue and mitigate depression.
How Lego Impacts Creativity and Connection
Lego is also relevant to the psychology of creativity.
Pike (2002) reported how Lego can be used as an effective learning resource for undergraduates in the psychology of creativity classes.
Students first attended lectures on the psychology of creative learning and then took part in seminars in which they free played with LEGOs, endured constraints to the building process, and finally were presented with constraints to the products itself.
During seminars, students were required to keep a “metacognition diary” in which they reflected on their thought process during the seminars. Evaluations of the study were then administered to all participants.
Overall, students were able to gain insight into their learning process and motivational tendencies in addition to developing an understanding of concepts within the psychology of creativity.
Specifically, students who were more intrinsically motivated were more likely to successfully design a solution to constraints.
And while all of this is interesting in terms of human development and the role of learning with Lego, the basics of Lego are they are fun!
Lego builds connections and unlike video games, you can show your creation. You can hold it and tell a story especially if you are free building. Lego is art and creation. And Lego is a way to connect.
I use Lego in therapy but also just as a relaxing way of tuning out the noise of the world and being very mindful even for just a few hours. Yes, they are expensive, but the payoff is well worth it!