The occupational therapy program is offering Lego-based therapy for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The program, held Jan. 31 to April 25, is open to children between six and 12 years old.
The hour-long sessions are led by Dr. Lori Charney, Department Chair and Assistant Professor, and Dr. Orley Templeton, Assistant Professor, as well as students.
The Lego-based therapy model used during sessions is based on research by psychologistDaniel B. LeGoff, said Charney.
“He [LeGoff] actually developed Lego-based therapy, and it’s using Legos as a medium to increase social skills for children with autism,” Templeton said.
The Legos are not used to target motor skills, but as a vehicle to teach social skills, Charney said.
“We’re coming at it from the perspective that you have to have a solid sensory base in order for the student to learn the social skills and engage in positive social participation, so we do a little bit of sensory to help them become alert and focused, so that they can learn those social skills and be able to utilize them in a group,” said Charney.
“We follow the same structure, but we add in our OT component so when they first come to us, usually we do a sensory motor opportunity and that’s really to help get their sensory system kind of operating so that they can learn new social skills and be able to interact with their peers and then we do the Lego-based therapy,” said Templeton.
At the beginning of sessions, the children are split up into groups of three, and each child is assigned a specific responsibility. One child is named part-supplier, another engineer, and the last builder. The part supplier has to listen to the engineer to find out what supplies to get, and then the engineer tells the builder how to put the pieces together.
“So in that structure it actually promotes social skills because we reinforce the child looking at their peer, we reinforce that they have to call their name before they’re telling them a direction. We’re also encouraging a child to actually listen to a peer and to respond in the appropriate way. So it’s really structured in that way, based on LeGoff, to help them develop those kind of social skills that underlie having a friend and listening to another person,” said Templeton.
Templeton, Charney and their students also do direct social skills training at the beginning of the group session. They cover things like the necessity for eye contact when communicating with others. Training also addresses feelings, how to identify them and how to properly relate them to others, said Templeton.
To assess the program’s efficacy, Templeton, Charney and their students evaluate the children’s social skills prior to therapy and record their baseline scores. They then rate the children each day on their social skills and at the end compare their ending social skills scores to the baseline ones.
The children are not the only ones gaining from the Lego-therapy: The students learn vital skills for their careers and gain rewarding experiences.
“I hope to learn how to more effectively engage with those with Autism Spectrum Disorder in order to help them along with their socialization skills in the therapy process. I also hope to help them to be able to generalize the new skills they will learn into their daily lives so that they will be able to gain new friendships,” said Samantha Gregorowicz, senior occupational therapy major.
“So far the most rewarding part was seeing the children’s faces when they were able to do something such as build a Lego structure as a group or go through the obstacle course successfully. We really are making a difference in these children’s lives and I think that groups like this stand with Misericordia’s charism of service so well,” said Molly Noon, senior occupational therapy student.
Sessions are held held Wednesdays at 3:45 p.m. at the Adventures in Learning building, 50 Lake street. Participants are charged a one-time fee of $50 for new Legos and extra supplies. The services Charney, Templeton and their students provide are free of charge.