30 January 2017

LEGO-based therapy study launches new child mental health centre

A new child mental health centre which uses LEGO-based therapy to help children with autism has been launched by the University of York and Hull York Medical School.

Mental health problems related to childhood phobias; socialisation issues connected to autism; and detecting autism in deaf children, will be the first research areas of the Centre, which was launched in partnership with Leeds and York Partnership Foundation NHS Trust.

Professor Barry Wright, from the University’s Department of Health Sciences and Director of the new Centre, said: “Traditionally children and adolescent mental health research is based around interventions that have been used in adult populations, but we aim to move away from this model with the launch of the new Centre.

“We have strong involvement from young people in designing and running our research, and children and families are right at the centre of our thinking as we plan further research.”

Practical activity

One of the Centre’s studies, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), investigates the efficacy of LEGO-based therapies in children diagnosed with autism.  Children on the autism spectrum can enjoy socialising when they are part of a small group and interacting around factual or practical based activities, such as LEGO.

Dr Lina Gega, Reader in Mental Health at the University and co-Director of the Centre, said: “We want to help shape child-friendly treatments for mental health that have been influenced by children themselves.  In order to find successful interventions to the some of the challenges children face, we have to first understand their world.

“One of our new studies on childhood phobias, for example, demonstrates how stressful it can be for a child to receive multiple NHS treatment sessions. Up to 10% of children suffer from severe phobias that can have a life-long debilitating impact if not treated early on.

“NHS resources are limited for the repeat visits that cognitive behavioural therapies require, however, and so Centre researchers will investigate new treatment methods that can be delivered in one session, to reduce the stress on the child and NHS resources.”

Screening methods

A Medical Research Council study in changing autism assessment methods for deaf children will also be a focus of the Centre. Studies show that deaf children are more commonly diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) than their hearing peers, and yet assessment methods are only designed for hearing children.

The new Centre will aim to determine whether the behavioural characteristics of autism are manifested in the same way in both deaf and hearing children, with a view to adapting current screening and assessment methods to suit deaf children.