Improving Executive Functions at School in Children With Special Needs by Educational Robotics

Maria Chiara Di Lieto, Emanuela Castro, Chiara Pecini, Emanuela Inguaggiato, Francesca Cecchi, Paolo Dario, Giovanni Cioni, Giuseppina Sgandurra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Children with Special Needs represent a highly heterogeneous group in terms of neurofunctional, behavioral, and socio-cognitive characteristics, but they have in common a frequent impairment of Executive Functions. Educational Robotics is generally dedicated to study the effects of constructing and programming robots based on children’s learning and academic achievement. Recently, we found that being engaged in progressively more challenging robot planning and monitoring (ER-Lab) promotes visual–spatial working memory and response inhibition in early childhood during typical development, and that an ER-Lab can be a feasible rehabilitative tool for children with Special Needs. The present study aimed to verify the efficacy of the ER-Lab on Executive Functions in children with Special Needs for the first time by using an RCT within their school environment. To pursue these aims, this study reports the results obtained in 42 first-grade children with Special Needs engaged in school Educational Robotics Laboratories (ER-Lab) to promote Executive Functions by means of enjoyable, intensive, and incrementally more challenging activities requiring them to program a bee-shaped robot called Bee-bot® (Campus Store). Several adaptations were done to meet different motor, cognitive, and social needs. All children were evaluated by means of standardized tests performed by each child before and at the end of the ER-Lab activities. Children with Special Needs had significantly improved inhibition skills, and children with attentional impairment had more benefits in their inhibition of motor responses tasks with respect to children with a language deficit. Results of the study and future perspectives on how ER-Lab programs could become a powerful tool in classrooms with children with special needs are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2813
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Nov 29 2019


  • children
  • educational robotics
  • executive functions
  • response inhibition
  • special needs
  • working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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