Playing with building blocks of creativity helps children with autism

Creative play with Lego blocks has helped six children with autism to break out of repetitive behaviour and venture out of their comfort zones. The study, led by Deborah A Napolitano, assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Centre, NY, USA, whose participants were between six and 10 years old, was carried out at the side of each child’s classroom for minimal disruption.

Each child was given 24 Lego blocks and had a one-on-one instructor who took basic information about the child’s inclination to make changes to the colour pattern or structure of the Lego blocks. Once baseline information about the child’s preferences, the first intervention was made, and during the first phase the instructor would encourage by suggestion and demonstration how to make different structures. Each successful try was rewarded with a small prize such as playing with a favourite toy.

 The second phase introduced wooden blocks in order to find out whether the child could apply these new skills to a different situation. Then the child was allowed to play with the Lego blocks again, but this time was only rewarded with a ‘good job’, and not a small prize. This was in order to see whether the children would still be inclined to explore with the Lego blocks. In the last phase the children were once again rewarded for varying the Lego structures.

After a few months it was found that the children were still able to create new structures with the Lego blocks. These findings are significant because of the difficulty autistic children have in breaking out of their comfort zones. When they want to continually place alternate red and blue blocks next to each other, for instance, introducing a yellow block can be very difficult. This research will help improve social skills and behaviour among people with ASD, and soon such activities as asking new questions, novel conversations and new creative play could be within reach for children with ASD.


University of Rochester Medical Centre


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First Published in November 2010

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