受自闭症儿童及其家长的故事的启发，乐高基金会（The LEGO Foundation）与Play Included™开展合作并重新构建Brick-by-Brick项目，通过为有需要的儿童和年轻人提供社交沟通方面的支持，帮助他们建立更健康的心理状态。
在4月2日世界提高自闭症意识日即将到来之际，乐高基金会（The LEGO Foundation）宣布与Play Included™ C.I.C开展合作。Play Included是一家总部位于英国的社会企业，致力于培训教师、心理学家和健康护理专家将乐高®玩乐体验用于治疗目的。这同时也是Brick-by-Brick项目中的一部分。双方的合作基于一个共同的信念——所有的儿童都应当拥有平等的机会，去学习和发展包括社交沟通技能在内的一系列21世纪所需的核心技能。乐高基金会和Play Included非常认同和珍视自闭症儿童所具备的独特天赋，并希望为他们提供更多的支持。因此，双方的合作也将通过Brick-by-Brick项目强化“通过玩乐来进行学习和发展”的理念，并扩大项目的普及性，从而惠及更多5岁以上的儿童。
在Brick-by-Brick项目中，在乐高玩乐体验中拥有相同兴趣点的孩子们会被聚集到一个群组中，孩子们把这些群组叫做“Brick Club”。在Brick Club中，孩子们分成小组进行活动，他们需要相互协作，共同拼搭特定的乐高模型，或者用乐高积木颗粒设计和拼搭自己的创作。在活动过程中，他们要轮流担任不同的角色，直到模型拼搭完成。例如，三人一组的团队将分为工程师、供应商和建设者。工程师负责给出指令，供应商负责找到相关颗粒，建设者则负责将颗粒拼搭在一起。由于自闭症儿童的社交活动需要额外的支持，Brick-by-Brick项目可以通过明确的角色分工、规则说明和活动形式帮助孩子们更好地交流互动。所有的活动会在经过专门培训的成人引导下进行，让孩子们可以在安全且有趣的环境中学习如何协作、沟通和解决问题，与他人建立友谊并为自己创造更多社交机会。
“自2004年以来，Play Included一直在使用Brick-by-Brick项目背后的循证方法论”，Play Included创始人兼董事Gina Gomez de la Cuesta表示，“孩子们在社会关系里感到无所适从有很多原因。我们希望帮助世界上更多的非典型性神经发育儿童，帮助他们结交朋友，获得归属感并且与外部世界建立联系。我们很高兴能与乐高基金会建立合作，有很多激动人心的计划将在接下来的几年里逐步开展，其中就包括重新定义和构建Brick-by-Brick项目，创建交流项目经验的平台和跟踪项目进度的全新工具等。通过分享最佳实践范例、开展相关研究和提供高质量的资源和培训，我们希望越来越多的儿童能够从这个充满趣味性、互动性和有效性的项目中受益。”
非典型性神经发育儿童独特的社交沟通风格容易受到误解，但他们和其他儿童有着相同的需求和愿望——在生活中能够被理解，被接受，与他们建立友谊，从而发挥自身潜能并实现人生抱负。Brick Club为他们提供了一个独特且有趣的学习机会，去获得积极的社交经验，与志同道合的人建立联系，进而改善心理健康并发展友谊。像Brick Club这样充满趣味性的社会扶持项目，也有助于减少社会孤立等负面现象，疏导心理健康问题，提高社会对自闭症的认知度和接受度。
Brick-by-Brick项目最初的设想是通过乐高玩乐体验，帮助自闭症儿童培养社交及情感表达能力。许多自闭症儿童在拼搭方面的表现十分出色，因为他们对细节和乐高拼搭模式非常敏感。这种方法被称为LEGO Based Therapy，由美国儿科神经心理学家Dan LeGoff博士于2004年开发，他现在是Play Included的代表。LEGO Based Therapy能够对自闭症儿童和青少年的社会互动、交流、行为和情感健康都产生积极的效果。
11岁的自闭症儿童Ben说道：“Brick Club让我学会了如何与人交谈，不害怕在小组中发言。我在Brick Club结交到了新朋友，我学会了如何参与对话，在学校与同学交谈更容易了，无论是自己去商店问问题，还是和朋友一起坐公交车也不会感到焦虑。Brick Club很棒，让我变得更自信了。”
“Play Included所构建的Brick-by-Brick项目是一个极具开创性的项目，与乐高基金会致力于支持儿童‘通过玩乐来进行学习和发展’的理念非常契合。通过有意义的、规律性的、有趣的、充满社会互动的方法，培养孩子们所需的核心技能，包括解决问题的能力、创造力、沟通能力和自信心。而这一切都是通过最有力、最直观的方式——玩乐来实现的。”乐高基金会玩乐和健康专家Michelle Ndebele说。
在2021年底前，升级版的培训，指导手册，Brick Club的资源和专业材料都将准备就绪。此外，还将有一个正式成立Brick-by-Brick交流平台，以召集专业人士的加入和分享不同的想法；还将推出一系列以家庭为基础的玩乐活动指导，其中的第一部分已经由自闭症顾问、Play Included合作伙伴和与自闭症有关联的乐高员工共同完成，用以帮助家庭成员之间建立沟通和连接。如果想要下载活动指导，了解如何加入Brick Club，或者了解更多Play Included以及与乐高基金会的合作，请访问https://playincluded.com。
Play Included have trained facilitators in 40 countries, and the current facilitator manual is now available in six languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, simplified Chinese, Polish and Italian. More languages will be added early 2023. The project will be a dynamic and co-created entrepreneurial process with a focus on long term sustainability where support from the LEGO Foundation will enable Play Included to broaden and deepen their in-country reach and expand to more countries.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1 in 160 children are autistic. Many more children struggle with social communication for other reasons.
Every autistic child will have their own unique strengths and needs. Autistic children may view the world from a different and valuable perspective and may have considerable strengths often including attention to detail and accuracy. They may show a deep focus on an activity of interest with a methodical and novel approach to find innovative solutions. Many autistic people show a distinctive imagination or may spot patterns and repetitions others may miss. They are often very honest, accepting of difference and less likely to judge others. Autistic children may have a different natural way of communicating, socialising and experiencing the world, they may face social interaction challenges due to lack of societal understanding of autistic communication. (Play Included; UK National Autistic Society).
Research has shown that autistic people effectively share information and build rapport with each other (Crompton, C.J., and Fletcher-Watson, S., (2020)); however, challenges may arise between neurotypical and autistic individuals. These challenges may be due to lack of societal understanding of the differences in communication styles; therefore, it is important to develop mutual understanding and acceptance of differences between everyone.
Research shows that autistic people are at higher risk of poor long-term outcomes, such as poor mental health, loneliness, peer rejection and social isolation (Kinnear et al. 2015; Bauminger and Kasari 2000; Bauminger et al. 2003). This is often because of differences in how autistic people process information and interact with the world. Autistic children engage socially in different ways compared with their typically developing peers, and may not know how to initiate co-operative play with typically developing peers. Whilst some autistic children find comfort in playing on their own, these differences may limit the child’s experiences and opportunities to develop friendships, relationships and social understanding.
In 2021, the UK’s Office for National Statistics released their 'Outcomes for Disabled People in the UK: 2020' report which showed that autistic people are the least likely to be in work of any other disabled group. Just 21.7% of autistic people are in employment. Note, these statistics may vary country by country.
Australian adults with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) participate in employment at a rate of 42%, in comparison to 53% of all individuals with disabilities, and 83% of individuals without disabilities (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009, 2010). Similarly, in the United States, 58% of young adults (aged 18–25 years) with ASD have worked for pay, and only 21% are in full-time employment (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013; Roux et al., 2015). While some autistic people do find employment, many receive lower pay than their colleagues in comparable positions, they work in positions that they are overqualified for and end up working reduced hours (Howlin et al., 2004; Roux et al., 2015; Shattuck et al., 2012).
Play Included Founder and Director,Dr. Gina Gomez de la Cuesta,is an HCPC registered clinical psychologist. Gina studied experimental psychology at the University of Oxford and did a PGCE teacher training course prior to completing a PhD at the Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge and a doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University of East Anglia. She has worked in many roles, including as Action Research Leader for the National Autistic Society and as a Clinical Psychologist in in the NHS. Since 2018, Gina has been supported by Cambridge Social Ventures, part of the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. They supported her in founding Bricks for Autism C.I.C. (now known as Play Included). Play Included's mission is to share best practice in the Brick-by-Brick programme and to enable others to use this playful, effective programme in their schools and services.
Play Included Director, Dr Elinor Brett, is a Child and Educational Psychologist registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. Elinor has been working as an Educational Psychologist since she qualified in 2013, supporting children with a range of Special Educational Needs in schools. Elinor conducted research into the Brick-by-Brick programme (known at the time as LEGO® Based Therapy) as part of her doctorate, in which she explored outcomes for children participating in the programme in schools. Elinor has offered training to professionals since 2015, and she joined Gina as Co-Director of Play Included in 2018.
Play Included are advised by paid autistic consultants in the development and testing of their resources and materials. They are in the process of developing a full advisory board to ensure their organisation, resources and materials are autism friendly.
Dr Dan LeGoff, paediatric neuropsychologist and expert in using LEGO bricks to support autistic children (pioneer of the concept behind the Brick-by-Brick programme known as LEGO based therapy), is an Ambassador and Adviser for Play Included.
Dr Jenny Gibson, Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Education in the PEDAL (Play in Education Development and Learning) research team at the University of Cambridge is an Adviser of Play Included.
Play Included work closely with the National Autistic Society to review their resources and materials. National Autistic Society is the UK's leading charity for people on the autism spectrum and their families. Since 1962, they have been providing support, guidance and advice, as well as campaigning for improved rights, services and opportunities to help create a society that works for autistic people.
About Play Included
Founded in 2018, Play Included is the leading resource in the Brick-by-Brick™ programme, a learning through play concept for young people who need support to develop social communication, such as young people on the autism spectrum.
We act as a Learning Centre, ensuring young people achieve the best outcomes through professional training, resources, partnerships and research. Our mission is to make sure every child has access to positive social experiences and has the chance to make friends through play.
About the LEGO Foundation
The LEGO Foundation aims to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow; a mission that it shares with the LEGO Group. The LEGO Foundation is dedicated to building a future where learning through play empowers children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners. Its work is about re-defining play and re-imagining learning. In collaboration with thought leaders, influencers, educators and parents the LEGO Foundation aims to equip, inspire and activate champions for play.