Gaming and LEGO® robotics with autistic students: Learnings and outcomes

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Today young people play online games such as Minecraft™ or use LEGO® Robotics to build 3D worlds or robots and connect with friends. Could building robotics or online gaming collaboratively support social skills of autistic students? We will share the outcomes of two recently completed projects addressing the above question.

Outcomes of a LEGO® Robotics program with Autistic students (Flinders University, Autism SA, & Griffith University) - LEGO® therapy involves groups of three autistic children working together to build pre-designed LEGO® sets with defined roles, resulting in improved communication and social skills. Our project extended this by examining the effects of LEGO® Robotics therapy on anxiety and social skills in autistic high-school students.


The use of off-the-shelf game, Minecraft™ to promote social collaboration skills in autistic pre-teens: A pilot study. (University of Adelaide & Autism SA) - This presentation will share findings of a pilot study which investigated the use of an off-the-shelf game, Minecraft™ to promote social collaborative skills in autistic pre-teens. The study’s intervention design and implementation were directly informed by consumers with lived experience, including autistic people, and parents of autistic children.


Dr David Hobbs, Senior Lecturer, College of Science and Engineering, Flinders University and Kimberly Steele, Leader, Personalised Learning, Blackwood High School

Outcomes of a LEGO® Robotics program with Autistic students

Dr David Hobbs has bachelor degrees in Physics and Biomedical Engineering, with First Class Honours, and a PhD in Rehabilitation Engineering from Flinders University. He has extensive experience as a Rehabilitation Engineer in the field of disability, rehabilitation engineering and assistive technologies, and is currently a Senior Lecturer and academic staff member within the College of Science and Engineering and a researcher within the Medical Device Research Institute (MDRI) at Flinders University. David’s professional honours include being a Churchill Fellow and Fulbright Professional Scholar, and being named one of Engineers Australia’s Top 100 Most Influential Engineers. David is also a Fellow of Engineers Australia.

Kimberly Steele is the Leader, Personalised Learning, at Blackwood High School, Adelaide. She worked as a special educator for 4 and a half years in Student Support Services and 6 months in the complex Needs Team under Dr Emma Goodall. Kimberly will share her school’s experiences and views on participating in the LEGO® Robotics Project.

Dr Abi Thirumanickam, Lecturer, Speech Pathology, School of Allied Health Science and Practice, University of Adelaide and consumers Mickey Burrows and Harry Bhavsar

The Minecraft™ Project: A pilot study 

Dr Abi Thirumanickam is a certified practising speech pathologist and a lecturer of Speech Pathology in the School of Allied Health Science & Practice at the University of Adelaide. Abi's research interest and expertise are situated in interdisciplinary, community-focused, inclusive research practices. She leads and conducts research co-designed with industry partners and people with lived experiences to ensure that the research outcomes are meaningful in real-world contexts. She was involved in the development of the Working with Autistic People-Practice Guide for Speech Pathology Australia, and is currently involved in the Augmentative and Alternative Communication practice guide development working party. Abi was one of the recipient of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences Emerging Leaders Development Grant in 2022, which funded her Minecraft™ Project - the pilot study. The Minecraft™ Project have garnered global interest, including radio interview, panel discussions, book-chapter authorships and multiple workshop and seminar presentations. She has recently been awarded the Channel 7 Children's Research Foundation grant to continue and extend this research in 2024/2025. 

Mickey Burrows is 20 years old and his hobbies include playing and modding games, like Minecraft on his gaming computer that he built by himself back in 2021. He started playing Minecraft around 2011. This is what drew him to join the Minecraft committee, as well as gaining more experience in social settings. It has been important to him to start learning more social skills, so he started at an op shop called Elcie’s where he volunteers at the cash register. He lives with his Mum, Nan and his cat called Bell. His Mum has been helping him learn more independence while Bell has given him emotional support for the last 15 years.

Harry Bhavsar is a 10 going on 11 year old with extensive knowledge and interest in Minecraft. He was one of the three participants in the Low-Intensity Face-to-Face group for the Minecraft Feasibility project. 


A/Professor Pammi Raghavendra (former HDA Co-Convenor), Disability and Community Inclusion, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University.

A/Professor Pammi Raghavendra has worked with children and adults with disabilities globally for over 40 years. Her specific areas of research and teaching interests has been in enhancing the participation of persons with communication disabilities in everyday life.

Other event information:

The recording can be viewed here: HDA Forum: Gaming And LEGO® Robotics With Autistic Students - Learnings And Outcomes. 8/2/24 (

Tagged in gaming, lego robotics, minecraft, autistic children, autism, children, teens