The BBC has released a news story that says that Minecraft can help children with autism. This is wonderful news as it’s something that I’ve not only said for years but have actually proven thousands of times over with my Autcraft server. I’ve been very eager for the rest of the autism community and science to catch up.
It’s incredible watching a child visit us for the first time, type randomness into chat, spam, use all capital letters, get very upset over and over again and demand that everyone give them everything… and then to see them transition over time into a polite and articulate young player that is eager to share, help other new players and even remind other players not to spam or type in “all caps.” I see this happen with children over and over again. Their spelling improves, their creativity improves and most of all, their social abilities improve to the point where they’re not just making friends on the server but at school now too.
Minecraft itself offers many benefits even without the social play. In single player mode where you play by yourself, you still have the opportunity to expand your creativity, your artistic prowess and even to some extent, your social strengths as you take what you learn with you elsewhere and find other people that share the game and start up a conversation. Kids even get hooked on Minecraft videos on YouTube where they can see others playing together and learn more there.
There is, however, one real danger which the BBC article never addresses.
Children with autism, like all other children, will eventually want to play Minecraft with other children. It’s only natural. However, unlike other children, they’re going to struggle with communication skills, social cues and most of all, emotional control. When a child ventures out to a random Minecraft server and is killed, or their base is destroyed or someone says something mean to them, it can be heart breaking. For a child with autism, it can be emotionally devastating. Rage ensues, self confidence is destroyed and depression sets in. And it can happen in the blink of an eye.
When I started Autcraft in 2013, it was done so in response to hundreds of parents seeking each other out in hopes that their autistic children could play together because they were at a loss as to how to help their children from being bullied on every server they tried to play on. Unmonitored servers run rampant with bullies, trolls and griefers. Any child that stands out as simply being different becomes the ultimate target for hate. This can be devastating for any child and much more so for a child with autism as they feel like they were cheated in life, they are cursed and worse… that they should just die.
In fact, I’ve heard from some parents that their children, some as young as 6 or 7, have been told by bullies on Minecraft servers that their parents never wanted a kid with autism and so, if they love their parents, they should just kill themselves. They tell these children that they’re dragging down the rest of the human race and if they really wanted to do something useful, they should just commit suicide. Can you imagine someone telling a 6 year old child something like this?
The BBC article is bright and cheery and encouraging to so many parents, especially those that saw Minecraft as just an obsession or an annoyance and I’m not trying to shatter that feeling, honest. I will always be the first and loudest to sing the praises of Minecraft and it’s benefits on kids with autism but I will also always do so with a word of caution… safety is the key.
Your child must play in a safe environment otherwise the benefits of the game will quickly be replaced with the perils of bullying and hate. If you are going to let your autistic children play Minecraft with others, than consider the following:
- Play on an autism friendly server, preferably one run by an autism organization or someone with autism themselves.
- Play with your children. Be involved. Buy a second account and play on a second computer and join in. If you aren’t teaching your children proper behavior online then someone else is.
- Enforce frequent breaks to ensure that emotions don’t build up over time and if emotions do build up, encourage breaks to calm down. Rage at the keyboard only ensures that the other players will single you out as a target from that point on.
- Moderation above all else. Even the nicest players that are on 20 hours a day can start to become aggravated more easily and others can become more aggravated with you more easily as well if you’re always there. Plus, no one should be on that much. Minecraft is great but only when combined with other activities, like playing outside.
- Set goals before playing. Start with solo goals such as finding X amount of diamonds or iron. Finding X amount of biomes. Getting a barn built. Things like that. As you branch out more, set more social goals such as saying “Hi” to at least 5 players or sharing your items at least once with some other player. Give your child something to focus on doing that they can then continue to do after without thinking about it.
On Autcraft, we always encourage the parents/guardians to play along with their children. We often set up community events and encourage group activities. We do not tolerate bullying or swearing or rudeness of any kind but we don’t just ban a person for it either. We take the time to explain to them what was wrong about what they did and how that could affect others and what they could do better. Not many servers do these things.
What I’m trying to say is, not all Minecraft servers are made equal. If you just throw your hands up and say “I don’t get it”, then your child is left to try to get it on their own and I would rather help you now than have them join my server later and end up talking to them for hours about how they wish to commit suicide due to the bullying. And believe me, I’ve done that a lot already with so many kids already.
When I started Autcraft in 2013, it was done so in response to hundreds of parents… within 48 hours, I received over 750 emails. 2 years later, we have approximately 6000 names on our list. That’s how bad the bullying is. That’s how very real the dangers are.
If you would like to support the Autcraft server, please visit our Patreon page where you can not only help us but also help those thousands of children by ensuring that they continue to have a safe place to play: https://www.patreon.com/autismfather
Have fun with Minecraft and the learning and growing and progress will come. But only so long as it stays fun.
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