Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 49, Issue 8, pp 3113–3126 | Cite as

Teaching Digital, Block-Based Coding of Robots to High School Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Challenging Behavior

  • Victoria F. KnightEmail author
  • John Wright
  • Kalli Wilson
  • Ashton Hooper
Original Paper


The use of robots to teach students with autism spectrum disorder communication skills has basis in the literature; however, research investigating the effects of teaching coding or programming of robotics to promote learning in STEM to this population has not yet been conducted. The purpose of the current study was to evaluate the effects of teaching one code explicitly, using model-lead-test on the following dependent variables: (a) acquisition of the explicitly-taught code (i.e., robotic movement); (b) generalization of the explicitly-taught code to other novel codes (i.e., robotic sounds, light effects, complex movements), and (c) self-generated novel sets of codes. Results of the multiple probe across participants design demonstrate that all three students with ASD and challenging behaviors were able to acquire the initial code, generalize the initial code to novel codes, and self-generate (i.e., create, test, and evaluate) their own coding. Implications for practitioners, study limitations, and recommendations for future research are discussed.


Robotics Programming Coding Autism spectrum disorder Emotional behavior disorder STEM 



We would like to thank the teachers and students who participated in this research.

Author Contributions

VK and JW conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination and drafted the manuscript; JW conducted the intervention and probe trials, performed the measurement, and helped to draft the manuscript. JW also led the research team and created the initial graphs. AH gathered demographic data for the project and assisted in writing the participants section. KW assisted with the draft of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This research was carried out with funding from Vanderbilt University Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Seed Grant.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

None of the authors declare a potential conflict of interest (financial nor non-financial).

Informed Consent

Informed consent and assent were obtained for all of the participants in the study after the Institutional Review Board approved of the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of EducationUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Department of Special EducationPeabody College of Vanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  3. 3.Peabody College of Vanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  4. 4.Metropolitan Nashville Public SchoolsNashvilleUSA

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