Speech therapy and LEGO® bricks – Dawn Ralph and Jacqui Rochester

speech therapyDawn Ralph and Jacqui Rochester, co-authors of Building Language Using LEGO® Bricks, discuss the use of LEGO® as a powerful and fun intervention tool for helping children and adults with severe speech, language and communication disorders, often related to autism and other special educational needs.

This intervention has been used with a range of children and adults.  As most of our clinical experience has been with children we have referred to participants in this article as ‘the child’ or ‘children’.  However, we have trained professionals who have used this approach with adults.

Building Language using LEGO® Bricks– a practical guide evolved from our attempts to implement LEGO-Based Therapy (LeGoff et al 2014) with children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).  We soon discovered that we needed to make significant adaptions to allow this client group to access it successfully.  Dr LeGoff, in his original research, invited extensions of his approach.  We decided to take up the challenge.

After the first block of our adapted intervention, we were surprised to find that the children were showing significant gains in receptive and expressive language skills as well as the expected change in social communication.

The adaptions we have refined over an extensive period have been recorded in Building Language using LEGO Bricks- A Practical Guide. It is our wish that this book will allow parents and professionals working with children with SLCN (including autism) to share the exciting changes that we have witnessed.

Building Language using LEGO® Bricks is a division of labour task, which takes the form of a barrier game.  Two children work together to build a model.  Each child has a specific role.  One is the Engineer, who has the instructions and relays these to the other child, the Builder.  The Builder selects the correct bricks and places them on the model.  The Builder does not see the instructions but has to rely on directions from the Engineer.  Children experience both roles during a session.

An adult takes the role of a ‘facilitator’.  Helping the children to work together and use appropriate language and social communication skills.  How they do these forms the majority of the content of this book. We have also included downloadable resources to enable a reader to set up their own sessions and adapt them for their child.

The first factor crucial to the success of Building Language using LEGO® Bricks is the naturalistic environment in which skills are developed and maintained. Jordan & Powell, (1995) and Vermeulen, (2001) write that working on social communication skills in activities that lend contextual meaning is vital for generalization of skills.

The second factor is the prompts, cues and strategies used by the facilitator to develop understanding and use of appropriate language. The book outlines, in great detail, how these are introduced and then gradually faded to promote independent use of skills.

Below is a list of the skills that are be targeted through Building Language using LEGO® Bricks:

  • Listening and attention control
  • Joint attention
  • Concept development
  • Understanding and using sentences with a greater number of information-carrying words
  • Social Communication skills
  • Fine motor and bilateral integration

The motivational nature of building with LEGO promotes attention control.  Builds can be gradually increased step by step to develop greater periods of attention. Prompts are gradually faded according needs and progress. This allows independent attention control to develop at the child’s pace.

Build partners must work together to achieve the end goal (completed model).  This demands joint attention from the very start of the first session.  Models are carefully selected to gradually increase cooperative working as skills progress.

Basic concepts of size, shape, colour and position are targeted throughout sessions. Prompts, cues and strategies are provided to support understanding and use of targeted concepts.  These are then faded in in specific ways as the concept is learnt and embedded.

Information-carrying words (ICW) are those that do not rely on context and therefore have to be understood in spoken language.  Some children and young people can only process a limited amount of ICW at one time.  Building Language using LEGO® Bricks gradually facilitates the processing of increasing amounts of ICW, by manipulating the build materials and the prompts offered.  Again these are gradually faded as skills increase.

Social communication skills include: turn taking, eye contact, body language, gesture and patience. These are targeted, modeled and prompted using specified techniques to allow development of independent skills.

Fine motor skills are the ability to use the small muscles of the hands to manipulate objects. Bilateral integration is the ability to use both hands together in an activity. Both of these skills can be targeted by choosing a brick size that challenges the child’s abilities.

Building Language using LEGO® Bricks– a practical guide also includes a pre and post intervention checklist that can be used to establish a baseline and monitor progress.

We have been amazed and inspired by the progress we have witnessed over a short period of time using this intervention.  Whilst we have evidence of this in many individual cases, we welcome further formal investigation of what we know can be achieved for the young people we work with.

  1. LeGoff, DB. Gomez De La Cuesta, G. Krauss, GW. Baron-Cohen, S. (2014). LEGO®-Based Therapy, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  2. Jordan, R and Powell, S.(1995). Understanding and Teaching Children with Autism, West Sussex, John Wiley & Sons Ltd. p.101.
  3. Vermeulen, P. (2001). Autistic Thinking – This is the title, London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Dawn Ralph gained her Speech Pathology & Therapy degree from Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh in 1985 and has worked as a paediatric speech and language therapist ever since. She has worked in a variety of settings from a paediatric brain injury unit to both specialist and mainstream schools. Jacqui Rochester has been working with SEN children for over sixteen years. In 2014 she gained her Bachelor of Philosophy in Special Education: Autism (Children) from the University of Birmingham’s Autism Centre for Education and Research. Both Dawn and Jacqui are the co-founders of SENtree Training and Therapy 

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