Playing with building blocks of creativity helps children with autism, a new research has found.
Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) noted the 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. If a child has only a rote set of skills, it's hard to be successful," said Deborah A. Napolitano, the study's principal investigator and assistant professor of Pediatrics at URMC's Golisano Children's Hospital.
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 six children with ASD in the study to play with legos in a more creative way.
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.
"We really can teach kids just about anything as long as it's systematic," said Napolitano.
The study's participants were between the ages of 6 and 10 and five of the six had moderate problems with restricted or sameness behavior, according to a behavior scale assessment that each participant's parent or teacher completed.
The first phase of the study consisted of a set of sessions that took place over several months. An instructor asked a child to build something new at the beginning of each session.
In the next phase, the instructor asked the children to build something new with wooden blocks, rather than the plastic lego blocks they had grown accustomed to, to see whether they could apply their new skills to a slightly different situation from the one they had learned in.
A few months later, researchers followed up with the children and found that they were all still able to create new structures in varying colors or shapes.
"The study's findings could pave the way for new studies testing interventions that attempt to improve a wide variety of social skills and behaviors among people with ASD," said Napolitano.
The study's findings have been published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis.