In an attempt to help children with autism learn the building blocks of creativity, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center tapped a toy box staple for help — Legos. By building Lego structures in new and unique ways, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) learned to use creativity, an important skill that they had seen as very challenging prior to the study.
“In every day life we need to be able to respond to new situations,” said Deborah A. Napolitano, Ph.D., BCBA-D., the study’s principal investigator and assistant professor of Pediatrics at URMC’s Golisano Children’s Hospital. “If a child has only a rote set of skills, it’s hard to be successful.”
Many children with ASD can become frustrated and uncomfortable when asked to break out of repetitive activities and create something new. Using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), the science of figuring out how to target and systematically change a specific behavior, the study’s researchers succeeded in teaching all six children with ASD in the study to play with Legos in a more creative way. The study’s findings have been published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis. The 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 that were shaped differently.