Use a wide range of tools, devices to help children learn
Assistive technology and accommodations for autism are not expensive but do require creativity and the use of everyday objects. Courage Center recommends using a wide range of tools to help children with ASD learn the building blocks of robotics. By building LEGO structures in new and unique ways in a First LEGOS League, children learn to use creativity, an important skill that was often very challenging for them.
Many children with autism spectrum disorder become frustrated and uncomfortable when asked to break out of repetitive activities to create something new. Using applied behavior analysis, the science of figuring out how to target and systematically change a specific behavior, children can be taught to play with LEGOs in a more creative way. In a recent study, children who had wanted to create the same 24-block LEGO structure over and over again at the start of the study began venturing out of their comfort zones to create new structures with different color patterns or shapes.
Snapping a yellow LEGO brick onto a blue one when only red bricks had touched blue bricks in the previous structure can a big step in helping a participant with autism spectrum disorder cope with new situations encountered in everyday life. Through use of LEGO pieces, new skills were taught and meaningfully retained.
In a group dynamic, children with autism spectrum disorder can practice social skills. The program at Courage Center is a great way to practice the skills children learn in therapy, so children can learn to work with others. Children can develop or gain skills in the social area over time with their involvement.
Building with LEGO pieces is often so motivating it takes some of the fear out of social interaction for that child.
What about other disabilities?
The ability to manipulate real things allows a child with a physical disability to make a product or a new design come to life. Children see what can be adapted and what cannot for a child to participate. From handling individual LEGO pieces to connecting them to form a robot to programming the assembled robot, there are many opportunities to explore which adaptations and which can make activities like these accessible.
This technology also can be something that may help this child in school, with homework, chores or work. Plus, they are learning it first in a motivating, fun way; later, they can use it for more complex, high-level work.
For children with cognitive disabilities, the First LEGOS League work can help to test a child’s memory, ability to transition, and ability to follow multiple steps, written or verbal commands. These tasks all can be incorporated into day-to-day work on the team. The child can use a planner, an iPad or a computer to remember to go to the LEGO activity; to use at home to learn more about science or technology; and to record where they left off and what they need to work on next week. A timer may also help cue the child to stop or move onto the next activity. These and other individual cognitive strategies are fun and important ways a child can learn to compensate for a cognitive deficit, and become more successful in the work they do.
Robotics is fun for kids and adults alike. LEGOS provide many opportunities for children with disabilities. The impact of LEGOS on learning and socialization are only two of the benefits they provide through assistive technology methods. Real-life learning makes it fun such that kids partake and don’t realize everything that is happening behind the scenes. You never know what will be the next greatest discovery and it could be a child with a disability.
Jennifer Mundl works in Courage Center Assistive Technology. Contact her at www.couragecenter.org To learn more about First LEGOS League, go to www.firstlegoleague.org