Friday, August 12, 2011

Lego Therapy?

Kids with autism typically have difficulty in one or more of these three areas: communication, response to sensory information, and social interaction.

I don't know about you, but of all these areas, I find social skills to be the most worrisome. This is mostly because teaching these skills is so daunting to me. Helping a child communicate better? Now, that I can handle. And dealing with sensory issues? Yep, I'm pretty comfortable with that as well. Though neither of those areas are a piece of cake, they do seem a bit more clear cut than social development.

But teaching my kid how to make friends, how to ask to join a game, how to use a tone of voice appropriate to a particular situation? So difficult. There are so many nuances to social interaction that seem intuitive to me. And that makes it difficult to teach. Worse yet is trying to teach him how to be patient and control his anger.

When our developmental pediatrician recommend ed a social skills group, I agreed immediately. Of course, I would drive over 60 miles round trip once a week. If someone could help my kid learn to make friends, I would walk if I had to!

Problem is, the social skills group only went so far. He learned about facial expressions and emotions, but still didn't seem to have any practical skills that would come in handy on the play ground.

So, I did research. I read a few social skills books and websites, desperately looking for a program that could really help Danny. What I discovered, though, was that many social skills programs are based on role playing; there does n't seem to be much opportunity for actual practice of the skills, which is exactly what my son needs. He has no problem answering the questions right, but extrapolating that information onto a social interaction has proven enormously difficult for him.

On top of that, Danny wasn't all that interested in the social skills group. The only reason he looked forward to it every week was because the Center had Legos, which he could play with when the group was done.

For months, I worried and agonized over how to teach my son, Danny, social skills. One day, as I wrote a post about my Danny's obsession with Legos, the thought occurred to me that if I could combine legos with social skills, we would have the winning ticket.

So, when Tiffani Lawton from Our Journey Thru Autism sent me the link to the Center for Neurological and Neurodevelopmental Health's website, I couldn't believe my luck. They had developed a Lego Social Skills protocol based on research. Finally, a program that was inherently motivating. I knew my son would beg to participate, solely because it would have Legos.

The CNNH calls this program "social development therapy" which I initially thought peculiar. Social therapy? Why therapy? Isn't it just a bunch of kids playing?

Now that I have read the manual, I know that it is so much more than that. This is a serious, very structured and amazingly well thought out set-up. Every aspect of the program is designed to teach kids not only how to work cooperatively, but how to resolve conflict, compromise with others and become good role models.

Let me give you an example. The kids are put into groups of 2 and 3. Every session, the groups each have the opportunity to choose which set they want to work on. So, every single session, the kids have to discuss and negotiate. If they take too long arguing about what to build, they lose precious Lego time. So, without bribery or threats, the kids learn not to argue, but how to compromise.

The club is very child-driven. The kids are trained to confront others who are disobeying rules. They are expected to work together on sets and on freestyle projects. They are given chances to be leaders of the group. They even decide when a child needs a time out because of behavior.

Of course, all this happens with adult supervision, so the kids are learning these skills in a safe environment with guidance.

The more I read about this program, the more excited I get. This is not the kids role playing what to do when someone steals their toys. No, this is real life practice. They don't sit around talking about how it might make them feel if they were left out. Instead, they are encouraged to broach these subjects with each other as they play. So, not only are they learning how to work with others, they learn to be their own advocates, to make their needs known.

We officially start our group in about 2 weeks, and I am frantically working to get everything done in time. But all the hard work is worth it. My son will finally have the opportunity to learn social skills in a way that he loves.

And I cannot tell you how amazing it makes me feel that I get to be the one to help him.


Anonymous said...

This is beyond awesome, Patty. I admire you so much for organizing this and getting the Pepsi grant. Are you going to be facilitating the group as well?

I am interested in looking for something similar for my Charlotte. Looking for and maybe creating. Unfortunately, Legos is totally NOT up her alley, but maybe something will be. Something that would appeal to girls. If you ever hear of anything, please, please let me know.

Trish said...

This is so amazing - you are truly an inspiration for getting this up and running!

Lizbeth said...

I am in awe of you. Your son and so many others are going to benefit from what you are doing. Can I commute from KC? ;)

Heather said...

This is fantastic! I would love to live closer to you to get Eli involved. Good luck to you!!!

Susan said...

It's so awesome when the stars align, so glad they are for you, Danny and the Lego group. Keep truckin.
PS I am seeing a lot of cute Lego crafts I should pass on to you

Lisa Quinones Fontanez said...

That is great! So happy to hear - I know how much this means to you! And absolutely an inspiration to me. :)

Mrsbear said...

I'm happy for you, Patty. I hope this group does wonderful things for Danny.