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High-functioning autistic children programming robotic behaviour

Orly Lahav (School of Education, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel)
Vadim Talis (School of Education, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel)
Ravit Shelkovitz (School of Education, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel)
Rona Horen (School of Education, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel)

Journal of Enabling Technologies

ISSN: 2398-6263

Article publication date: 30 July 2019

Issue publication date: 19 August 2019




The purpose of this paper is to examine the ability of high-functioning autistic (HFA) children to programme robotic behaviour and sought to elucidate how they describe and construct a robot’s behaviour using iconic programming software.


The robotic learning environment is based on the iPad, an iconic programming app (KinderBot), and EV3. Two case studies, of A. and N., both HFA children of average age 10.5, are the focus of this research.


The research revealed how the participants succeeded in programming the behaviour of an “other” at different programming complexity levels (from simple action to combinations of states of two binary sensors and rule with subroutine). A transformation from procedural to declarative description was also found.

Practical implications

This research on the ability of HFA children to programme robotic behaviour yielded results that can be implemented in K-12 education. Furthermore, learning to programme robots and understand how robotic technologies work may help HFA children to better understand other technology in their environment.


In this research, the authors present an innovative approach that for the first time enables HFA children to “design” the behaviour of smart artefacts to use their sensors to adapt in accordance with the environment. For most HFA children, this would be the first opportunity to “design” the behaviour of the other, as opposed to oneself, since in most of their experience they have been largely controlled by another person.



The authors thank the two anonymous participants and their families for their time, effort and ideas.


Lahav, O., Talis, V., Shelkovitz, R. and Horen, R. (2019), "High-functioning autistic children programming robotic behaviour", Journal of Enabling Technologies, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 82-91.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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