The interesting thing about LittleBits is that the parts snap together with magnets. No soldering, screwing, etc. For autistics who have problems with fine muscle control, this is a major plus.
International LEGO® Therapy Advocacy for Autistic Kids (ASD Aid) is an organisation founded in Australia by adult LEGO® enthusiasts, to support and promote the therapeutic use of LEGO® play for autistic children. Currently, the group organises LEGO® play groups in Victoria, Australia. Some clinical studies have found LEGO® play effective in improving social communication in children with high-functioning autism and Asperger Syndrome. Further research would be welcome to solidify the findings, and identify the play strategies that are most helpful. In any case, who needs an excuse to play with LEGO®?
Fluid reasoning (or ‘fluid intelligence’) is the ability to apply knowledge to new situations; as opposed to ‘rote memory’, which is simply repeating the same memorised steps over and over. A deficit in fluid intelligence is one symptom of an autism spectrum disorder like Aspergers or NLD. Researchers have found that a simple computer game called ‘n-back‘ can help improve fluid intelligence, as this Wired article explains (but so far, they’ve only tested it on non-autistic subjects). A free version of the game can be downloaded here (the usual disclaimer: though I’ve downloaded and used it myself, I make no claims as to the fitness of this software for any purpose, or that it won’t damage your computer, cause it to melt, disappear into thin air or eat your lunch when you’re not looking). Versions of the game are also available for mobile devices, search ‘n-back’ for more details.
A toy designed for autistic children won the 2011 Good Design Award from the Chicago Athenaeum. Designed by Laura Chun Urquiaga, PlanToy’s Build-a-Robot aims to teach facial expressions and enhance dexterity in autistic children aged 3 to 7. Build-a-Robot offers four interchangeable heads, with different emotional expressions and different tactile surfaces. To exercise dexterity, the robot’s head and legs can be detached and re-attached.
Auti is a furry interactive robot toy that’s currently under development. It has sensors that detect sound and touch, and responds positively to gentle handling and soft voices. But it shuts down when hit or shouted at. The idea is to train autistic children in good social behaviour at a young age, so they can interact more successfully with non-autistic kids.