By Carlo Pandian
Naturally adverse to dealing with new situations and communicating with other people, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face numerous challenges in dealing with day to day life in which new situations come as part of the landscape. Early diagnosis and treatments are believed to be crucial to develop the personalities of those with the condition and in helping them to learn to cope with the world around them. As clinicians and specialists are developing an earlier diagnosis for individuals, it is becoming easier for parents and carers to take simple steps to help develop essential skills and abilities in their children. Play is an integral part of the development of any child and it’s through play that parents of those with ASD can encourage creativity and the ability to react to change and to respond positively.
The value of play therapy
Play therapy is recognised as a very effective way in which to develop both creativity and communication skills amongst those who fall in the autism spectrum. While there are some basic principles in play therapy there are no hard and fast rules or definitive results. The autism spectrum is broad, encompassing mild or borderline symptoms right through to the more serious end of the scale which most people would recognise. For parents, a diagnosis of any illness in their child can be devastating, but understanding that ‘autism’ is a condition that affects people far more widely than it has always been recognised can help. From mildly – and arguably harmless – obsessive behaviours through to difficulty in connecting and communicating with the world and people around them, the spectrum is broad and it is a condition that many people live with successfully.
Benefits of early diagnosis
For parents lucky enough to have an early diagnosis there is considerable professional help available. However, play therapy doesn’t need to be restricted to professional practitioners and actively encouraging play that develops skills. Creating a sense of achievement in your child is something that all parents should be engaged in. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have found that one deceptively simple toy can have a beneficial effect on those children diagnosed with Autism. LEGO, a perennial favourite with children across the globe since its introduction over 70 years ago is a toy that has some inherent features that will engage those with autism.
Thanks to its naturally systematic qualities, LEGO has been shown to appeal to those who diagnosed with ASD. Often children with the condition will display tendencies towards repetitive behaviours, and be attracted to systematic processes of any kind. LEGO is, of course, a highly systematic toy which in itself is likely to appeal to children with autism. At its simplest level LEGO play is highly likely to engage those with autism, with very little need for intervention, with the structured nature of the toy providing entertainment and reward in itself. However, research has also shown that used in the right way it can also lead to development of both creative responses and aid development of communication.
Building confidence and creativityFor those at the higher end of the spectrum, LEGO play can help to develop these skills by a system of rewards and praise for changes to both the structure and the colour arrangement of the toy/building. Researchers have shown that this kind of play helps those with autism to develop a more creative response and to learn to cope on a basic level with changes and variations. The results from much of the research have been impressive; through a gradual process of rewards and praise children have learnt to independently create, change and express enjoyment when encouraged to play with the toy. The results have also proved to be lasting in the groups that the therapy has been tested on, with the individuals retaining the ability and importantly the enthusiasm for the toy, enjoying the creative side it offers. LEGO perhaps surprisingly, offers a simple way in which to develop your child’s skills in communication, creativity and also their self-confidence, assisting their abilities in dealing with the new and the unexpected.
Carlo Pandian is a LEGO fan, traveller and writer covering everything from LEGOLAND attractions to things to do in the weekend around Manchester. He is involved in a special needs association in his local borough where he cooks fantastic Italian meals.