Well we just got back from the Delaware JFLL Competition last night! This is our fifth year with a team and our kids are actually more mentoring as they are to old to compete (they are in the older group of FLL kids going to an expo in April).
KAM (my husband) started a Lego League at the prodding of my sister SJK who repeatedly spammed us about the group until we relented and formed our own team when our oldest was a whopping 6 years old! SJK is the greatest sister in the world who spends much of her free time spamming us with 1,000 activities a day to keep my over scheduled children deliriously cultured.
KAM and all 3 of our kids have always loved Lego’s and they are the one fixture in our home that is in every room (damn it) and no matter the age of our kids are always played with as the oldest is now 11.
How this relates to autism is a multifaceted and incredibly useful
!. Bird had awful coordination and fine motor skills until around age 6. Lego’s really helped to build up his fine motor skills so that he could hold a pencil.
2. Focus which he still lacks but to a lesser extent as following instructions on making a Lego (first with 1:1 help and now independently) really made him concentrate to get what he wanted…a finished truck, helicopter, car or what ever he was building.
3. Our Lego League focuses on public speaking as the kids need to speak to the judges. The kids free build first and then have to present what they have built to the group describing, naming, and discussing attributes then answering questions from the group. This has been evaluable to helping Dillon with speaking in front of groups, answer novel questions and think before speaking.
4. Focus on a specific task- each year we do a separate project that focuses on a different theme. One year the kids built The Wright Flyer, The Lockeed Vega from Amelia Earhert and Spaceship One the X Prize to show aviation through time. The kids had to learn about advancements in technology in aviation. Other years they have learned about medical technology, underwater technology, modes of transportation and alternative sources of power. Really nerdy but important science info with a heavy emphasis on engineering and simple machinery (which are on the SOL’s).
5. Team work which is such a skill with kids theses days! The kids work as a team to build and rebuild things together as a team and are judged by how well they work together. I know of a few adult friends with autism who do not participate in team sports because they find it a real challenge. While Bird has always done swim team and soccer for a less athletic child Lego League is a great way to work within a team that does not involve being the fastest or strongest physically.
6. The competition it’s self is hellish for kids with autism as you are on the floor of an arena with more than 2,000 other loud kids and parents with almost no space to stand or sit while being bumped and pushed past for up to 7 very long hours! You at the end sit crossed legged for about 30 minutes on the floor with more than 200 kids while you watch other teams win awards until your team is called. I remember the first year freaking out inside that Bird would get up and head to awards podium over and over confused about his team’s name. This did not happen but I tend to stress for little good reason sometimes when group events are occurring after many an embarrassing incident.
So back to our team! KAM has been the organizer and mentor for the team for the last 5 years with various help ranging from very active parents to almost no help at all and groups that range from 6 kids our first year (the M&M’s) to last year where I think we had 22 kids (I think this year we had 14). I really have learned a tremendous amount from attending likely only 60% of the meeting (sorry KAM) but the kids all got a wide breath of information on so many subjects it has sparked great conversations and awareness into the world.
I totally believe if a child who loves Lego’s who is high functioning (can answer novel questions correctly from anyone coherently) and participate without disruption in a ratio of 10:1 that this a great way to make friends and build on tons of skills!
Very Best and Thanks SJK and KAM for the efforts towards an amazing Bird! Thanks Bird for working so hard to become the guy we admire so much….and Eagle and Peep for whom things were not always without embarrassment but you kept it together and moved on.