10 things I’ve learned from running a Minecraft server for children with autism

It wasn’t that long ago that I registered a domain name, opened up a shiny new Facebook page and Twitter account and announced to the world that I had started a Minecraft server just for children with autism and their families. Now, one year later, I can honestly say that I’ve changed a lot. I’ve changed because I’ve learned a lot. Some of it good, some of it not so much.

This is what I’ve learned in 1 year of running a Minecraft server for children with autism.

Bullying1. Bullying is far worse than anyone realizes

In one year, Autcraft‘s list of approved players (whitelist) is now over 4300. From a very humble Facebook post to a few hundred people, word spread like wildfire. This happened because parents had finally found a place for their children to play where they wouldn’t be bullied.

It’s not just the quantity but also the quality. Most kids are used to the hitting, kicking and teasing. On Minecraft servers, the bullying usually involves killing them, destroying their stuff and stealing everything they have to the point of making the game unplayable.

The worst though, is that these kids, some as young as 5 or 6, are told that they should be killed or never have been born because they are dragging down the human race. They’re told they’re less than worthless, they’re a burden on everyone, even their own parents. They’re told that, if they care about people, if they care about their parents, they should commit suicide.

Next time someone talks to you about having autism and being bullied, don’t respond with “well, everyone is bullied” because there is no comparison.

2. Being autistic makes you a target

Three weeks after opening our doors, Autcraft became the topic of several troll/hacker forums including the infamous 4chan website. A victim of our own success, these places heard of us quickly and immediately determined we’d be an “easy target” to “make a bunch of autistic kids cry.”

Since then, we receive applications from troll/hacker groups at least 2-3 times a month and our server is DDOS attacked at least once a week.

3. Autistic is to ‘retard’ as Autcraft is to…

People are using ‘autistic’ in the place of ‘retard’ in their lame attempts at insulting others but I didn’t realize just how much until I started finding Autcraft being used as the insult across the Minecraft community. For example, when two people are insulting each other, one would suggest that the other belongs on, or should go back to, Autcraft.

If we aren’t targeted for attack, we’re used as an attack on others.

calm down4. Autistic children are mastering a technique that most people lack

I have seen many autistic children on our server get so mad that others can’t help but change ‘rage’ from a noun to a verb. “He’s raging.” When a child with autism gets to that point, there is very little self control. The worst of the worst behavior that they are capable of can and often does present itself.

However, many of these children, most even, have this remarkable ability to stop, recognize this is happening and remove themself from the situation and return after calming down.

I can only assume that this is due to the very hard and diligent work of their parents and care givers (and even some handy apps) but this is something I am witness to very often and always amazed by. While most people don’t ‘rage’ quite as extremely as some of these autistic children do, they still prolong the issue and hold grudges for far longer than they probably should.

A secondary benefit to this is that they are able to recognize this in other autistic children as well and often come to quick resolutions after apologizing and forgiving each other upon the child’s return from calming down.

5. The kindest community in all of Minecraft

Ok, that’s a bit of a bold statement to make and I can’t really confirm it since I haven’t been on every server but I can tell you that every guest we’ve had from YouTube celebrities, Minecraft news sites, other server owners, teachers and more have all told me that they received the biggest and kindest welcome when they joined Autcraft and continued to experience the friendliest atmosphere they’ve ever had while child after child offers to give them tours, help them find a place to build, help them build, give them advice and even just offering to be their friends.

This is surprising to most people as they assume a community comprised of socially awkward or special needs children couldn’t possibly be that well natured… that friendly. But it is. It really is.

Equality vs Equity6. Equality vs fairness

One of the most famous quotes in the autism community is “If you’ve met one autistic, you’ve met one autistic” which is another way of saying, each autistic is different with different characteristics, symptoms of autism, personalities, strengths and weaknesses.

On other Minecraft servers, rules are set in stone and everyone that visits that server must abide them. With Autcraft, while we do have a set list of rules, each child is essentially treated quite differently.

While this sometimes leads to some being upset that “it’s not fair” that two children are not treated equal, I have found that for 2 very different children to learn a new task, complete a task and have an equal experience, it is imperative that those two children not be treated equally in the beginning.

You treat them fairly, based on their strengths and weaknesses such that both children have an equal opportunity and that’s when everyone does well.

Positive Reinforcement7. Encouragement vs Discouragement

When children do bad things on a Minecraft server, the instinct is to jail or ban them. When they say bad things, they are muted.

On Autcraft, these things happen very rarely despite the fact that many of the players are children that have more communication impairments, less emotional control and more learned negative behaviours than even their own parents may realize.

The reason these punishments happen so rarely is quite simple: we encourage them to do better.

We reward players that show great improvement from Sunday to Sunday with Player of the Week. We take the players that show respect, maturity and a need to be a helpful contributor to the community and reward them with the added responsibility of being a Helper.

We offer many great rewards for players who simply do their best or make improvements over how they were previously.

Children want your attention. You can either wait for them to do something wrong to get it or give them opportunities to make you proud.

Communication is key8. Communication is key

When a player does act out, rather than mute or jail them, we ask them if they’re OK.

Nine times out of ten, we’re told about something happening in their life that is troubling them. We talk about it and they either feel better or don’t but the ‘acting out’ stops.

Communication is not limited to talking. For some we contact the parents with something their child did or said, sometimes it’s with concerns about how they’re feeling and sometimes it’s to tell them about the really great thing their child did.

Sometimes we have children on that are very young or unable to read/write the chat, in which case we set up a system with the parent such that if we move their child to a special room, that’s their cue to get mom or dad so that we can relay information to them, they tell their child and then they continue on playing.

Open communication, in what ever form we can achieve it, at all times, makes the whole experience better for everyone.

Be Yourself9. Progress is made when you’re free to be yourself

We’ve received so many emails from parents saying that their children are making better progress now than with years of therapy. Others are making friends for the first time ever. Some are learning to read and write when it seemed nearly impossible before.

I believe that the reason for this is simple: the children are unafraid to just be themselves.

When you remove the fear of bullying, embarrassment and the shackles of self-doubt, these children open up and do the things they love. They do it in the open and for all to see and others rejoice in it and encourage that. That’s when real progress is made.

They’re no longer afraid to spell something wrong, they’re no longer afraid to admit they like something they feel like maybe someone else would think they shouldn’t, they’re no longer afraid to speak up and say what is on their mind.

This is when real education happens. This is where real power comes from.  This is how real progress is made.

respect10. Respect

Many of these children are fighting battles that most people can’t imagine. For some it’s constant bullying while others have unaccepting parents. For some it’s not having any friends or the struggles that come with being unable to communicate effectively or it’s the blinding rage that seems to bubble up all too often despite their best efforts or maybe it’s other things like also having ADHD, Tourettes, seizures or any other number of other disorders or problems.

When I talk to many of these children, they are going through more battles than most adults would be capable of handling. We often joke that life was so much easier as a child than as an adult but for many of these kids, that simply is not true.

Talk to them with respect, make your best efforts to listen and to understand and never dismiss their struggles.

They will respect you when you respect them and that’s when you’ll have an opportunity to truly help each other.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of http://www.stuartduncan.name. My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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12 Responses to 10 things I’ve learned from running a Minecraft server for children with autism

  1. Elizabeth June 16, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

    I didn’t even know this existed. I’ve been hovering when my boys play Minecraft because I don’t trust the environment. They are both on the spectrum and are homeschooled because of bullying and other challenges. This would be a terrific way to connect with others like them. I’ll be looking your server up!

    This is a great post. I’m heartbroken that our children are the target of bullies–and so thankful that mine don’t even notice or acknowledge that behavior in others. They still see good in the world. I’d like to keep that.

  2. Jai June 16, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

    “(They are) told that they should be killed or never have been born because they are dragging down the human race. They’re told they’re less than worthless, they’re a burden on everyone, even their own parents.”

    I hate this more than anything. I am an adult with aspergers, and it is still a struggle. When I was young most people didn’t even believe it existed, you were either normal or autistic enough to not be a part of normal society. I’m not sure what we have now is much better. We have more awareness, but also more scorn. In fact to me the worst part of the anti-vacc movement (other than being based on BS) is that they are pretty much saying that risking your child dieing of one of these diseases is preferable to risking them being even slightly autistic.

  3. SpaciousName June 21, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    Baby and grandparent fist-bump. Pro.

  4. M Ursula Herrmann July 17, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    Please explain to me why 5/6 year old kids, autistic or not, are playing Minecraft on a server (as opposed to the private version)? I would not let my 5 or 6 year old play a game on a server unless I were sitting right there monitoring everything.

    That said, Minecraft (which can be played privately, i.e. not on a server) is a great game for autistic kids and I’m glad Autcraft exists. But keep the 5 or 6 year olds off the Internet. That’s just bad parenting.

    • Stuart Duncan July 17, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

      Sorry but no.

      First, it’s not my place to explain other parent’s decisions nor do I feel they should be made to explain themselves any more than I’d demand that you explain every decision you make. (yes, I’m sure it was a rhetorical question but I feel a need to respond to it anyway)

      Secondly, that isn’t even nearly the focus of this post nor would such action (allowing a 5 year old to play on a server) in any way justify the bullying of that 5 year old.

      Lastly, I’m a bit disappointed that the one take away from any of this is that you should hit the comment section to harshly judge other parents for doing something you wouldn’t.

      I know this isn’t the response you were hoping for but you know nothing about these people, their reasons, their children or much of anything else really, to be writing about “bad parenting.”

      Like I wrote above in my post, I believe in encouragement, not discouragement and my blog focuses very heavily on that. I don’t judge, I encourage people to do better.

  5. lisacli July 18, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    Stuart Duncan You are awesome!!! The world needs more you’s!!!:)

  6. Ann Clinical Psychologist July 18, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    I am going to put your link on my page, as most of my clients are children on the spectrum, and many of them play this game. Thank you so very much for providing a safe haven for them! you ROCK!!!

  7. Heather Hale July 18, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    I’ll start by saying that I know nothing about minecraft other than that I had to ban by son from playing it- mostly for all the negative things you posted above… so I have some questions, sorry. First, how do I find your server!? I would LOVE a place where my son can actually play & have people give 2 cents about him (he’s 12 & highly functional). His father hasn’t been a part of his life for a few years now, and I think the realization that he abandoned him is starting to take hold. His behaviour screams “angry child”, but he doesn’t know how to explain what he’s angry about & the psychologists had NO luck – so I’m hoping that seeing other kids struggling, might make him more aware of his own struggles (if that makes sense?). I’m leaving my email in this, hopefully you can see it, and bless you for doing this for our autistic children.

    • Stuart Duncan July 18, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

      Hi Heather, no problem. Our website is http://www.autcraft.com and there’s a menu link to the whitelist application that you can fill in to get him access.

      There’s a forum and articles and more that you can see what the children are doing and how things go.

      We’d love to see you both there :)

  8. Amanda Taillon July 19, 2014 at 6:34 am #

    This is amazing! TY

  9. Joanne July 22, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    This us really great to know.

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