Along with Autism Awareness, I have been advocating the positive effects of LEGO Therapy for children on the Autism Spectrum.
LEGO Therapy was developed by Dr. Daniel LeGoff. In a structured environment, and with the assistance of trained individuals, children on the Autism Spectrum are guided through group activities involving LEGO play.
There are currently no structured Lego Group environments for my son, Matthew, to participate in. In a personal discussion with Dr. LeGoff, I was told that he and others are developing Lego Therapy groups that will be more readily available to parents of children with Autism who are interested in the benefits of Lego play.
Though Matthew has not been involved in structured Lego Therapy groups, I have seen the benefits of the casual Lego play that he engages in at home.
Matthew has often only been interested in activities that he can play alone. It was difficult for me to watch him isolated as he played. I’d hoped to find something we would like to do that would involve playing with other children sometimes.
My son has few friends in school. Social awkwardness and misunderstandings leave him isolated and at times, can lead to acts of aggression by other children.
In a recent post, I explained that the few friends Matthew has in school, are the few who have sympathy for him. While these children are helpful and friendly during school hours, they aren’t his friends.
Being a military family, we are subjected to frequent moves to new places wherever in the world the military decides to relocate us. New friends will have to be made, new resources found to help deal with my son’s Autism, new educators and classmates that will have become familiar with Matthew’s unique behaviors.
The one constant that any military family can have, and that we hold onto dearly, is a close relationship with each other. The one child that I hope will always be Matthew’s friend, is his younger sister, Kayli. I encourage them to play together. It’s been difficult to find anything that they would be willing to play together. More often, I’m breaking up sibling arguments that seem never ending. Kayli doesn’t understand her brothers’ behaviors, and at times will taunt him to get a reaction. Matthew will joke and tease to the point of annoying his sister, but he doesn’t realize when enough is enough.
The effects of Autism have created an atmosphere of difficulties associated with school, and family. Together with educators, and therapists, our family does what it can to create an environment in which Matthew can thrive in.
One of the issues that we’ve struggled to alleviate is Matthew’s Self-Injurious Behavior (SIB). Like many children with Autism, Matthew frequently engages in the repetitive, and frequently harmful behaviors of self-inflicted hitting or biting. Matthew has never hit himself. But in a reaction to the stress he often experiences, he has bitten the sides of both index fingers to the point that they are thickened and scarred.
I have tried to correct his self-damaging behaviors by redirecting his attention to something else or by simply reminding him not to chew on his fingers. My attempts failed. I continued to catch him chewing on his fingers and I worried if they would ever heal. Will his fingers be permanently damaged?
In December, 2009, we moved into a new house. It was then that I started to notice a change in Matthew’s social behavior with his sister, and in the frequency with which I caught him chewing on his fingers.
I was unsure of the reason for the change but I was happy for it. It took two months before I realized that since the move, of the toys that had been packed away, the first ones they found and were playing with most often were their Lego sets.
As I paid more attention to my children playing, I noticed they were playing together. While there are still arguments between them that I have to referee, the quiet, peaceful play between them was increasing.
While helping Matthew groom his fingernails, I noticed the severity of damaged to his index fingers was far less dramatic than I’d seen in years. Where his fingers were once thickened, red, raw, lined with flaked, constantly healing skin, and sometimes bleeding, they were now softer, pink, and healing.
I couldn’t believe it. Though the sides of his fingers are still thickened from years of frequent chewing, they were healing. I asked Matthew if he was still chewing on his fingers. He replied, “No, mom. I stopped.”
Music to my ears.
Lego Therapy may not be appropriate and beneficial for every child on the Autism Spectrum. But with the help of simple play with Lego bricks, I have seen dramatic improvement in my son both socially, and physically.