CRF funding provides boost to LEGO® program helping children with autism

CRF funding provides boost to LEGO® program helping children with autism

An Adelaide program using LEGO® to help children with autism develop their social skills is about to expand thanks to the support of the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation.

Lead Chief Investigator, Associate Professor Parimala Raghavendra, successfully applied for a grant to support the Flinders University-led phase 1 trial project ‘Can LEGO® robotics therapy improve the mental health and social skills of adolescents on the autism spectrum?’ in the Foundation’s 2020 Annual Grant Round.

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Nearly 40% of children and adolescents on the autism spectrum experience mental health issues such as social anxiety and difficulties with interactions. This has a significant effect on everyday participation, including attending school, meeting friends, and using public transport. To date, there is limited research in using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and other therapies to treat anxiety in adolescents on the autism spectrum. Interventions that pique an adolescent’s natural interests, may provide opportunities for engagement and reducing anxiety. This project aims to investigate whether collaborative LEGO® robotics therapy can reduce anxiety and increase social skills in adolescents on the autism spectrum.

Associate Professor Raghavendra said the research project came about after Autism SA highlighted the success of their existing LEGO® therapy program with younger children and wanted to develop something for teenagers. With a background in speech pathology, Associate Professor Raghavendra was immediately interested in the communication and social improvements LEGO® therapy was achieving.  

“Despite promising findings with younger children, the use of LEGO® therapy to improve anxiety and social skills for teenagers with autism has not yet been investigated extensively,” Associate Professor Raghavendra said. 

Associate Professor Raghavendra’s project received one of 18 grants awarded by the Foundation for South Australian-led research being conducted during 2020-2021, from an initial 143 expressions of interest received, and will help support the Foundation’s vision to advance research that will improve the health, education and welfare of Australia’s children.

Researchers from Flinders University’s Caring Futures Institute will partner with Autism SA to investigate whether LEGO® robotics therapy can reduce anxiety and increase social skills in teenagers on the autism spectrum. 

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