Co Antrim woman using Lego to help children and build a better life one brick at a time

It may look like child's play, but it seems that working, creating and playing with Lego can vastly improve many life skills which will positively impact the lives of children and young people for years to come. arole Wilmont has discovered that playing with the interlocking plastic bricks can help young people with autism to improve their social, communication and cognitive skills and in turn build confidence and practice good mindfulness. The Co Antrim woman has been running Lego-based therapy sessions since 2018 in schools all across Northern Ireland and has even been nicknamed "The Lego Lady" by the children who take part. "When I arrive at schools you can see the sheer delight in the children's faces knowing it's their day for the session," she said.

"When you invest as a facilitator, the children in your group matter more than just for the hour you have them for the Lego based therapy session -- you watch them around school, broadening their friendship group, giving feedback in class, accepting feedback well (which at times can be difficult for us all), and being more confident in their ability to ask for help. "This is a key point for me as I know with children and young people in general at times asking for help is really difficult but because it is an organic part of Lego-based therapy it becomes like second nature to address the person you're talking to and clarify the instructions given." Carole (32), who previously worked as a classroom assistant and is also a trained counsellor, has been providing her CALM with Carole holistic and therapeutic sessions for over three years now.

It started out with a weekly Saturday sensory session with one or two children who were on the autistic spectrum with the help from her friend, Gillian. After months of hosting workshops and birthday parties, Carole soon branched out to delivering these sessions in schools to help children struggling to settle and to make friends through creating tailor-made programmes for both pupils and staff. CALM with Carole has been her full-time job for the past three and a half years and has now expanded to include seven trained facilitators who work alongside her to provide counselling, craft, origami and Lego play therapy sessions all across the region in schools, playgroups and even private sessions.

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Therapist Carole Wilmont of, CALM with Carole, with P7 pupil Daniel Dines (left) (11) and P6 pupil Emmett McNeill (10) during a lego based therapy session at Cedar Lodge School in north Belfast.
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Therapist Carole Wilmont of, CALM with Carole, with P7 pupil Daniel Dines (left) (11) and P6 pupil Emmett McNeill (10) during a lego based therapy session at Cedar Lodge School in north Belfast. Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Therapist Carole Wilmont of, CALM with Carole, with P7 pupil Daniel Dines (left) (11) and P6 pupil Emmett McNeill (10) during a lego based therapy session at Cedar Lodge School in north Belfast.

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

"The joy about the Lego ones in particular is that it can be set up anywhere there is a table, chairs and three willing participants!" she said. Each session lasts for one hour and is usually run over the course of 12 weeks. Each participant during the session has a different role to follow with either a structured set of instructions for a Lego model or a freestyle building exercise.

The freestyle session encourages expression of key interests of the child or young person as well as improving skills on working with others, sharing and thinking outside the box, followed by a feedback session. Each part complements the other and is all used in order to build the strengths of each participant and their ability to work as a group.

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Carole during some sensory play workshops.

Carole during some sensory play workshops.

The Lego-based therapy sessions are currently being run in Belfast, Magherafelt, Downpatrick, Coleraine and Ballyclare and Carole explained that the research behind these sessions originate from the Baron and Cohen the Hyper-systemising theory, suggesting that we all have two sides of our brain; a creative side and a logistical side.  "Children and young people on the spectrum often struggle more with merging and syncing the two sides cohesively, but within the Lego-based therapy we try to aid this," she said.

"The logistical side links in very well with the set building element where there is an order or an instruction to follow and the participants work together to create one thing. "The more creative side is complemented by the freestyle building section of the session where this freedom encourages participants to explore their own limits of creativity." Carole explained that the benefits of using play therapy in this way creates a "Lego language" using these plastic bricks to improve flexibility, patience and empathy as well as developing communication skills.

"It also helps to develop fine and gross motor skills and how to get your own needs met without crushing the needs of others," she said. "There is also a link with literacy and numeracy through this type of play, so it complements the curriculum really well. "Young people learn to mirror the feedback and constant praise of the facilitator of the session which becomes the most heart-warming part to hear children and young people cheer on and encourage their peers.

"My motivation is to create a safe space where hearts can open, thoughts can be heard and creative expression is encouraged."

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Co Antrim woman using Lego to help children and build a better life one brick at a time

Carole with participant Jacob Blayney during one of the Lego-based therapy sessions.

Carole with participant Jacob Blayney during one of the Lego-based therapy sessions.

Lego-based therapy is a play-based intervention originally created by a psychologist Dan Le Goff, who focussed this therapy especially towards children and young people diagnosed with autism. "It covers a wide range of skills such as building social skills and has elements of sharing, turn taking, following rules and instructions and learning the art of problem solving," explained Carole. "It was originally designed for children aged from six to 16 who are on the autistic spectrum but more recently has been used with those with communication difficulties, anxiety, transition disorder and social developmental disorder.

"Within CALM we use Lego-based therapy in both the mainstream and special educational setting and those settings with a focus on speech and language. "It is a fantastic tool for all children and young people to have a fun atmosphere to build on their confidence, find their voice and develop a transferable skill base to broaden their social skills outside of a classroom setting." The counsellor said that results can be seen even before the 12 weeks are completed.

"As the weeks go on you notice a natural confidence in not only the intervention and the way it works but also in their overall social skills and what is appropriate," she said. "You notice that there is an improvement in how they speak to each other, as well as their ability to manage their frustration If the Lego isn't quite doing as they'd like. "They also begin to encourage each other in their builds and there is a real sense of belonging and empowerment from success within the group."

Each session is designed to each child's individual needs. "To have fun is to create a positive experience that is valued and remembered is the most important, and also the most rewarding, part of the work that I do," added Carole. "Fun based activities are brought into each session to ensure a positive impact where individuals leave feeling hopeful, carefree and happy."

To find out more about Carole's Lego-based therapy sessions you can follow 'CALM with Carole' on Facebook. 

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Therapist Carole Wilmont of, CALM with Carole, at Cedar Lodge School in north Belfast. Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Therapist Carole Wilmont of, CALM with Carole, at Cedar Lodge School in north Belfast.

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Therapist Carole Wilmont of, CALM with Carole, at Cedar Lodge School in north Belfast.

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX