Lego brick building clubs can be a game changer for neurodiverse children – helping them develop social skills, make friends and have a whole lot of fun

Many parents can testify to Lego’s incredible power to engage children in creative play for hours, even days, at a time. But now the tiny brick’s superpower is being put to educational use in a brilliantly constructive way for neurodiverse young people at Brick Club – a place to build, play and learn among likeminded friends.  

Brick Club is the brainchild of Play Included, a Cambridgeshire-based community interest company and a LEGO Foundation partner. The idea began almost two decades back, when Play Included founder and director Dr Gina Gómez de la Cuesta was starting out her Clinical Psychology PhD at the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge. She heard about a pioneering Lego therapy methodology being devised in the US by Dr Dan LeGoff to support neurodiverse children and young adults – he’d been in touch with the Autism Research Centre to tell them what he was up to.

Lego Brick Club – a game changer for neurodiverse children
Brick building clubs are a place where children can turn up and play, building social skills and having fun without the anxiety associated with many other meeting points

This tied in with Gina Gómez’ own interests and research specialism and the use of Lego to support play and learning for neurodiverse children became the theme of her doctorate at UEA. Later, she went on to co-author the professional manual LEGO-Based Therapy with, among others, Dr Dan LeGoff. Fast forward to 2018 and she founded Bricks for Autism, now called Play Included.

Gómez and her colleagues at Play Included run an innovative programme for health and education professionals. Called Brick-by-Brick, it teaches them how to facilitate Brick Clubs. Everything they learn is evidence based, grounded in the thinking and approaches found in Lego-Based Therapy. “Since the company began, we’ve trained 3,886 professionals – teachers, health professionals, play therapists, psychologists, occupational therapists and other similar professions – and in 58 countries around the world,” says Gómez.

“You’ve got a joint focus on a task, so you don’t have to have forced conversation or small talk”

Brick Club has proved to be versatile, scalable and transferable, working across different age groups and settings (it’s typically recommended for age five up to adulthood). Recently, the team even undertook small-scale pilots in deprived areas of Mexico and Kenya and were pleasantly surprised by the outcome. “There are some cultural adaptations and differences you’ve got to think about in different settings, but we’ve had really positive outcomes from those small pilots in Mexico and Kenya.”

What this programme teaches is a method of play facilitation that removes many of the key issues for neurodiverse children in group settings. Sessions at Brick Club are designed so they are flexible, meeting the needs and interests of the members. Sometimes children can play different roles (known as Engineer, Builder and Supplier). Or they can opt for ‘freestyle’ building in pairs or small groups. More advanced builders can have a go at stop-motion animation, coding and programming. Whatever the activity (and there are lots), they have the opportunity to take charge and start making decisions together.

Lego Brick Club – a game changer for neurodiverse children
The club activities can be tailored to the group – from simple model building to stop-motion animation, coding and programming

What underpins Brick Club is, of course, the simple idea of play. This comes easily and naturally to most children, and it’s important for social and emotional development, but we know play is not easy for everyone. But one of the many clever things about Brick Club is that neurodiverse children often come into their own with Lego bricks. “A lot of the kids already know Lego and they feel like it’s something they are good at,” says Gómez.

“Often these kids are used to being told that they’re not very good at this or that and have to have extra help – but here is something that they are good at.” So children who turn up for Brick Club are not faced with what Gómez describes as same old round of “negative stories”. Rather than being that child in need of extra help, Brick Club is highlighting what they can do. “This comes at it from a positive – it’s building on their strengths and what they like.”

While building things together is the fun bit, there’s a broader goal behind it. Brick Club helps children socialise without those challenging moments inherent in so many other organised and spontaneous activities – the things that raise their anxiety levels. “You don’t have to have that face-to-face communication. You’ve got a joint focus on a task – a physical thing – and you’re all looking at the instructions, so you don’t have to have forced conversation or small talk.”

Brick Club
It’s a low anxiety setting, which is why brick clubs can be a game changer – and research suggests they work across age groups and geographic areas

For many children, this is a game changer – and so Brick Club is described as a low social anxiety situation for very good reason. It’s turn up, agree a task and get going. Gina Gomez remains impressed by the sheer skill demonstrated when they do get going. “The visual strengths of these kids are brilliant,” she says. “And for facilitators to be able to say ‘wow, you’re really amazing at this’ is so positive.”

Of course, along the way, children are building all sorts of useful life skills – teamwork, sharing, meeting new people, accepting different opinions, not getting upset when things go wrong. Building with bricks also builds strong friendships. “They feel like they belong to the Club, that they’ve got friends who share similar interests. It’s just a natural way to play and work through developing these skills, using a skill they already have,” says Gómez. “Sometimes, Brick Club is the only positive thing that has happened in their week.”

* For free play resources designed for neurodiverse children you can try at home, visit

Further reading: Out to play – reclaiming local streets and neighbourhoods for child-led fun and games