The Efficacy of Student-Assisted LEGO Therapy in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders Using the Autism Impact Measure

Friday, May 13, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
J. Gehricke1,2, R. steinberg Epstein1, L. Lam1, A. Z. Chester1, T. Thampipop1, K. Pesterfield1, R. Bisht1, S. Quan1 and J. H. Donnelly1,2, (1)The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, Santa Ana, CA, (2)University of California, Irvine, Santa Ana, CA
Background: Since children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are naturally drawn to repetitive and predictable patterns, LEGO Therapy is advantageous in attracting and motivating children with ASD due to its structured play, intrinsically enjoyable properties, and opportunities for originality. LEGO Therapy allows participants to practice verbal and nonverbal communication with an emphasis on social support, social problem solving, and conflict resolution; all of which are impairments associated with ASD. Behavioral interventions using LEGO aim to help children with ASD initiate and sustain higher quality interactions with peers. 

Objectives: The present study was designed to examine the short-term effectiveness of LEGO therapy in improving ASD symptoms, including sensorimotor symptoms (e.g., fascination with looking and touching objects, avoiding sounds, textures and smells), social communication (e.g., social withdrawal, eye contact), and repetitive behaviors (e.g., repetitive body movements, lining things up).  

Methods: Twelve children with ASD between the ages of 6 and 14 participated once per week for five weeks in one-hour LEGO Therapy sessions. During each session, participants were paired with a student assistant and engaged in LEGO play, taking turns as either a “builder” or an “engineer.” To monitor progress, parents were given the Autism Impact Measure (AIM), a 41-item parent survey shown to be a reliable measurement for tracking short-term improvements in ASD symptoms and impairments. Parents reported the frequency of ASD symptoms and their impact on daily functioning in their child over the last two weeks at baseline and after completion of the five-week period. The data processing and analysis was conducted with SPSS Statistics 21 using Wilcoxon tests at a one-tailed probability level of 0.05. 

Results: Overall, LEGO Therapy significantly decreased the impact of ASD symptoms on daily functioning from baseline to study completion (p = 0.027). More specifically, LEGO Therapy significantly reduced the impact of sensorimotor symptoms (ps ≤ 0.021) as well as deficits in social communication (ps ≤ 0.017) on daily functioning. 

Conclusions: The findings suggest that LEGO Therapy can significantly improve the daily functioning of children with ASD, particularly in symptoms associated with deficits in sensorimotor functioning and social communication.