Could LEGO robotics improve school attendance rates?

Flinders University

Monday, 19 February, 2024

Could LEGO robotics improve school attendance rates?

Autistic teenagers currently have a school absenteeism rate three times higher than that of their neurotypical peers.

However, a social development program based on LEGO therapy, combined with robotics, could play a part in reducing the rate.

In the first phase of a trial supported by the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation, Flinders University, Griffith University and Autism SA experts assessed whether an eight-week rollout of the LEGO robotics therapy program reduced the anxiety levels of autistic teenagers while improving their social skills, motivation and school engagement.

LEGO therapy uses toy bricks as a tool to help autistic children interact through play and develop their communication and social skills. Developed by clinical neuropsychologist Dan LeGoff in the early 2000s, the therapy encourages participants to work together in groups, adopting and performing three rotating roles to complete a model.

24 South Australian autistic teenagers between the ages of 13 and 16 took part in the study. They worked in groups of three, building and solving challenges using an EV3 LEGO robotics kit. The researchers asked the teenagers questions about their experiences with the program and interviewed their teachers and parents to evaluate the overall benefits.

While the first stage of the program did not show quantitative improvements in children’s social skills or anxiety levels, it did show early signs that LEGO robotics therapy may be a drawcard for children to come to school.

“While parents and teachers both noticed that the LEGO robotics therapy sessions improved school attendance for some students, only a longer and larger trial can determine if this is in fact a consistent result for this program,” said Associate Professor Pammi Raghavendra, a speech pathologist and the lead researcher within the Disability & Community Inclusion and the College of Nursing & Health Sciences.

“The program enabled children to focus on an activity that allowed for social and communication skills to develop in a natural way. The positive feedback we’ve received from families and teachers following the LEGO Robotics program focused on new and different social connections with peers, and increased knowledge and skills.

“It’s important to note that we did see a lot of variability, which may be due to the rollout of the program during the COVID-19 pandemic and the short length of the program. There might have been higher levels of anxiety with all participants in terms of the pandemic and the impact on everyday life, including possible school closures, so further research may provide a better understanding of the programs benefits without the impact of COVID-19 and associated shutdowns.”

One of the main outcomes of the grant-funded project is the development of a free LEGO robotics guide, which provides step-by-step instructions, tips and multiple resources on how to run a LEGO robotics program for autistic teens.

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