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I-SOCIALISE: Results from a cluster randomised controlled trial investigating the social competence and isolation of children with autism taking part in LEGO® based therapy (‘Play Brick Therapy’) clubs in school environments

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Dawn Teare, Professor Ann Le Couteur



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


© The Author(s) 2023.Social learning through friendships is important in child development. Autistic children often initiate and engage in social interactions differently than neurotypical peers. LEGO® based therapy is a group intervention which facilitates social interactions with peers using collaborative LEGO® play. A 1:1 cluster randomised controlled trial with autistic children aged 7–15 comparing 12 weeks’ LEGO® based therapy and usual support to usual support alone in 98 mainstream schools (2017–2019) was carried out. The primary outcome was social skills (Social Skills Improvement System) completed by unblinded teachers (not intervention deliverers) at 20 weeks. Analysis used intention-to-treat. Fifty intervention schools (127 participants) and 48 control schools (123 participants) were allocated. Primary analysis included 45 intervention schools (116 participants) and 42 control schools (101 participants). The between-arms difference was 3.74 (p = 0.06, 95% confidence interval: −0.16, 7.63) and 1.68 (p = 0.43, 95% confidence interval: −2.51, 5.87) at 20 and 52 weeks (0.18 and 0.08 standardised effect sizes). Twenty-week outcomes for those receiving per protocol intervention were 4.23 (95% confidence interval 0.27, 8.19) with a standardised effect size of 0.21. Sensitivity estimates were between 3.10 and 4.37 (0.15–0.21 standardised effect sizes). Three unrelated serious adverse events were reported. LEGO® based therapy has a small positive non-significant benefit for social skills at 20 weeks but not 52 weeks. Lay abstract: Autism is characterised by keen interests and differences in social interactions and communication. Activities that help autistic children and young people with social skills are commonly used in UK schools. LEGO® based therapy is a new activity that provides interesting and fun social opportunities for children and young people and involves building LEGO® models together. This study looked at LEGO® based therapy for the social skills of autistic children and young people in schools. It was a randomised controlled trial, meaning each school was randomly chosen (like flipping a coin) to either run LEGO® based therapy groups in school over 12 weeks and have usual support from school or other professionals, or only have usual support from school or other professionals. The effect of the LEGO® based therapy groups was measured by asking children and young people, their parents/guardians, and a teacher at school in both arms of the study to complete some questionnaires. The main objective was to see if the teacher’s questionnaire answers about the children and young people’s social skills changed between their first and second completions. The social skills of participants in the LEGO® based therapy groups were found to have improved in a small way when compared to usual support only. The study also found that LEGO® based therapy was not very costly for schools to run and parents/guardians and teachers said they thought it was good for their children and young people. We suggest further research into different potential benefits of LEGO® based therapy.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Wright B, Kingsley E, Cooper C, Biggs K, Bursnall M, Wang H-I, Chater T, Coates E, Teare MD, McKendrick K, Gomez de la Cuesta G, Barr A, Solaiman K, Packham A, Marshall D, Varley D, Nekooi R, Parrott S, Ali S, Gilbody S, Le Couteur A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Autism

Year: 2023

Volume: 27

Issue: 8

Pages: 2281-2294

Print publication date: 01/11/2023

Online publication date: 29/03/2023

Acceptance date: 02/04/2022

Date deposited: 15/05/2023

ISSN (print): 1362-3613

ISSN (electronic): 1461-7005

Publisher: Sage Publications Ltd


DOI: 10.1177/13623613231159699

PubMed id: 36991578


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