Special to the Philanthropy Journal
Children flourish when they feel included, empowered, and accepted. One of the best ways for every child to experience this is learning in a way that suits their strengths and needs and is joyful. All children deserve – and need – to experience playful learning yet, as a society, we still forget to create opportunities that include all children. We forget to bring great educational experiences, through the power of play, to every child and this is something we have to change.
This is particularly true for neurodivergent children. It is widely acknowledged that resources and support services for them have been underfunded worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 160 children are diagnosed with autism and a further 5% have diagnosed or undiagnosed Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (AD(H)D).
Autism and AD(H)D represent just two neurotypes, yet this is a significant number of people and as a society we are not doing enough to meet their needs. Funding in this area is largely limited to clinical priorities, such as furthering our understanding of diagnosis. While this is important work, it has inadvertently taken investment away from supporting some of the most critical and basic needs of neurodivergent children. Education is one such area that has been failing many neurodivergent children for years. Education technology, methodologies and facilitation methods are largely adapted to, and not developed with and for, neurodivergent children. At the LEGO Foundation, we are working to help close this investment and innovation gap and call on others to join us.
The power of learning through play
The power of innovative, playful approaches to support children’s learning and development is undeniable. Play helps children build essential skills and learn in a format that is as varied and adaptable as children themselves. Learning happens everywhere, and experiences at home, school and in the community can all be turned into playful learning opportunities.
For all children, including autistic children and children with AD(H)D, play provides an opportunity to interact with other children in meaningful ways which in turn helps them deal with emotional stress, solve problems and, importantly, build relationships. Play-based learning can further societal acceptance and understanding of neurodivergent children because it gives them the opportunity to engage, learn and play alongside their peers.
Innovation to catalyse change
Increasing innovative playful learning experiences that are designed specifically for, and with, neurodivergent people is an area rich in potential. So in April, the LEGO Foundation launched the Play for All Accelerator programme, to provide equity free funding and a fixed term mentorship programme for social enterprises, ventures and organisations who wish to support autistic children and children with AD(H)D with play-based learning. Wherever possible, innovations are co-created with members of the neurodivergent community, to ensure their voices and needs are heard and understood. We hope that by using this new approach to partner funding, we can quickly scale ideas, maximise the number of children we reach, and catalyse further education solutions for neurodivergent children.
Innovation needs a catalyst, and this is where the LEGO Foundation – and other organisations – can have the most impact. Not only can we provide funding, but through our research and extensive global network we can provide holistic support to smaller organisations with big ideas, helping them launch and scale inclusive playful learning experiences. We also know that further research is needed, and this is why the LEGO Foundation is committed to increasing understanding of innovative pedagogical approaches for neurodivergent children.
As a society, we still have a long way to go to fully embrace neurodiversity. We must work towards breaking the stigma of diagnosis, and champion individuals so that everyone’s own authenticity is valued. We believe that when neurodivergent children are recognised and uplifted, everyone benefits.
Through our Play for All partnerships, we hope to raise public understanding and acceptance of all neurodivergent individuals. The advantages of such an approach have already been seen through our partnership with Play Included®, who run the ‘Brick-by-Brick™’ programme. Launched last year, this programme recognises the talents and celebrates the strengths of autistic children. It brings children together, giving them the opportunity to connect with each other, strengthen emotional well-being and develop friendships by taking on different roles while collaborating to build LEGO models. It also provides an opportunity for schools to celebrate difference and build the foundational change needed for a more inclusive world that celebrates diversity.
To truly close the funding gap and fight stigma, neurodiversity needs the philanthropic community to engage more directly and unite as a collective champion. In the long-term, we hope that the Play for All Accelerator creates more than just innovation. We are committed to working with the community, and other funders and partners who share the LEGO Foundation commitment. Together, ensuring co-creation and intentional collaboration is at the heart of future innovation, we can invest in research and playful learning concepts and close the gap once and for all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Diana Ringe Krogh joined the LEGO Foundation in 2014 driven by the desire to make an impact on the lives of children. She has held various positions in the LEGO Foundation and is currently the Head of LEGO Collaboration & Social Ventures. In her role, she leads the LEGO Foundation’s partnership with the LEGO Group and other entities in the LEGO branded ecosystem to unlock the potential of the LEGO Brand to, through a collaborative approach, make a positive impact on children and to become a Global Force for Learning through Play by 2032. Through Social Ventures, she leads the LEGO Foundation’s work to accelerate bold social innovations with Learning through Play based methodologies, such as LEGO Braille Bricks, that shine a positive light on children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and that focus on uplifting and supporting children with SEND and their families. Most recently, this has materialized in the new Play for All Accelerator, a funding and mentorship programme for social enterprises who wish to support neurodivergent children. Diana has held other positions in the LEGO Foundation such as Head of Advocacy, Communications & Social Ventures and Chief of Staff & Head of Communications. Prior to joining the LEGO Foundation, Diana established organisations to deliver on EU projects through strategic partnerships with universities and university hospitals as well as private/public partnerships.