Tag Archives | communication

The one thing I wish I could tell every depressed autistic child

enduranceSince starting Autcraft, I’ve talked to a lot of depressed autistics, mostly children. Many of them were suicidal. This is not something I recommend for most people to ever try. It is a very heavy burden that can weigh heavy on your heart after a while.

I find that this happens a lot for me because I am the ideal candidate for this to happen to. I’m an autistic adult who’s still a kid at heart and once was a depressed autistic kid just like them. To say that I can relate is a massive understatement.

For those of you that watch The Flash, the new television series about the super fast superhero, you’ll totally get what I’m talking about here but if you don’t, don’t worry, I’ll try to explain. In the television show, there is The Flash who can run crazy fast but there’s also another guy, the villain, who they call The Reverse Flash. He runs even faster. The problem is, the good guys don’t know who this Reverse Flash really is until he slips up. In an effort to help The Flash run faster than he’s ever run before, he begins encouraging him by explaining to him how to reach those speeds, how to feel as the speeds take over him, how to handle the experiences he’s now going through. It was then that The Flash, our hero, realized who The Reverse Flash was because only he would know what it was like. Only someone that has shared those experiences could truly understand him.

In my case, these children that come to me to talk to me about their lives because they know who their Reverse Flash is… I can tell them what they’re experiencing, what they’re feeling and hopefully, how to get through it faster. I understand.

When they start to tell me how alone they feel, I can explain exactly what it is they’re feeling in words that they’ve never been able to before. When they say that no one understands them, I not only describe exactly how that feels for me as well but in doing so, I show them that there really is someone that understands them.

So knowing that, I’ve come to realize that there is only one common piece of advice that I give to most people that seems to help… and it’s the one thing that I wish that I could tell all young autistic children everywhere: “there’s an older you that needs you to endure this.”

When I think back to the younger me, I wish so hard that there was some way that I could just go back in time, to myself, just to tell myself, “I know it’s hard. And I know you never believe it when anyone else says it but maybe you’ll believe it from me, from yourself… endure this because it’s worth it.”

We’ve all heard “it gets better” but we all know that a child never believes that. Not when life is that bad. There is no one that can ever convince you of it. That goes double if you’re autistic. I can’t tell you why but if you are autistic, you know it.

But there is a future you, a happy you, a you that makes a difference in the world and is doing alright. And that future you, if they’re anything like me, would love nothing more than to have a chance to talk to you right now just to let you know that it’ll turn out alright, but first you have to endure this. And yes, it will suck. But as there’s a future you wanting to telling you this, you know that you can do it.

There are no time machines but even if there were, there are far too many autistic children that never give themselves the chance to meet their future selves. Perhaps if they could have, they would have seen for themselves that if only they can endure this… it will be worth it.

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The most important lesson that I had to teach to the adults just as much as the children

Communication UnderstandingDuring my time running Autcraft, I found myself constantly teaching people things. I taught children how to work together, how to be a friend, how to play the game, how to deal with bullies and so much more. I also found myself teaching adults as well. How to play the game mostly but also how to cope with troubling behaviours, how to extend their patience level and even how to switch a system which focuses on punishments to one that focuses on positive reinforcement.

The biggest thing though, the number one thing that I found myself constantly having to teach, reteach, remind and reinforce over and over and over again was, what I feel, the number one single most determining factor in the success of the server… communication.

When a player (child or adult) did something wrong such as swear, lash out, destroy someone’s property or quite literally anything else, it was my job to talk to them. Communicate.

I needed to find out why they did what they did, what they were thinking in doing it, what they hoped to accomplish and if they understood why it wasn’t ok. I had to explain why it’s not allowed and how it affects others around them. I had to reach an understanding. Communication.

Time and time again though, I’d have to remind the adults on the server of the same thing. The parents, the autistic adults, the SrHelpers and even the other admins. When patience levels would dwindle, when a behaviour became a repetitive situation… the desire to even try and communicate would grow less and less. But it was always crucial. It was always imperative.

Only through understanding the motives, the thought process and the intentions would we truly be able to understand the person and only then could we explain why it was wrong, or misguided or not appropriate.

Nine times out of ten, once we could see from their point of view, we could understand how they came to behave in the way that they did. And when that happens, a mutual respect is achieved. A bond is formed. You get them, they get you and they feel more comfortable with you as you actually take the time to “get them.”

This offers benefits for both parties. The person trusts you more and is more inclined to open up to you and come to you next time as they’re no longer afraid that they’ll just get in trouble and they know that you’ll take the time to understand them next time too and likewise, you yourself gain greater insight into why people do what they do, you learn to put aside your judgments and assumptions and you learn to keep calm and use your kindness and compassion to get to the truth.

Most problems I encountered were built on a foundation of assumptions, jumping to conclusions or simply not taking the time to understand, or worse, not caring too.

As people learned to take the time to talk, not just talk but to communication with the intention of understanding, everything just ran better and better. Players played together better. Staff managed the place better. Players felt more comfortable and open to approaching us.

Above all else, communicate. Take the time to understand. It’s not just a lesson for the children, it’s not just a lesson for the players, it’s also a lesson that many adults, parents and even the staff have had to learn… myself including. It’s also not just something you learn but something you get better at over time.

If you can take the time to do this, and keep doing it, all other pieces just fall into place.

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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.

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No one is less important than you – vlog video featuring Minecraft

In this video, I discuss our perceptions and assumptions of people that either can not speak or speak in a way that seems younger or less intelligent than we might think they should.

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I think I speak for everyone when I say that I speak only for myself

If you read blog posts or news articles or random bits and pieces of things from people, do you honestly assume that the person is speaking on behalf of all those within their community? How about the world?

Chances are you haven’t really put much thought into it at all. You just read what someone says and go about your day. As it should be.

A funny thing happens though, when you are one of the people writing some of the same (or similar) things that other people are writing… you start getting defensive. As if somehow, in some way, those other writers are writing on your behalf and they’re not getting your message right at all.

It all starts to spiral quickly once one person starts naming another person and it gets ugly fast.

But for the most part, I think anyway, most readers don’t care about any of that and most never assume that one person’s writing is indicative of the way everyone thinks or what their experiences have been. I’m not saying they definitely know better and always think that each story is unique but rather that most people don’t even think about it at all.

Most people enjoy what a writer says and comes back to read more another time or moves on to the next thing they read or they go back to stopping their kids from fighting.

I think I speak for everyone when I say that I speak only for myselfIf you’re a writer/reader, try not to take it so personally when someone’s opinion is different from your own or if they’ve had conflicting experiences from your own. If it does seem that some other writer is attempting to speak for you, let it slide. You know they don’t. The reader knows they can’t.

If you’re a reader and not a writer and you’ve never really given it much thought, let me put your mind at ease right now. What I write, no matter what it is, is based on my own opinions and experiences and I speak for no one else but myself.

And if you read something from someone that does claim to be speaking on behalf of others, keep in mind that they can’t possibly do that. Don’t get mad at them, but just keep it in mind as you read. Their experiences and opinions are valid too, even if they do have an enlarged ego.

Sometimes they might even have facts and figures to back up what they say with such claims as “the majority of” and so forth. If you think about it… “most” people still isn’t everyone. Meaning, they still can’t speak for everyone.

Most of all, if you do see a writer naming another writer to discredit them or make an argument, keep an open mind that these are two passionate people, both with valid yet conflicting opinions. And try to filter out the ugliness as best you can. Chances are, they’re both not wrong. They just might not be able to see that at the time.

You really can believe everything you read, if you remember to keep in mind the source. They are human too. They are just one person and that’s all that they can speak for.

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