Tag Archives | communication

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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Conversations within the autism community

Miscommunication

Miscommunication

Before I begin, you should know that I’ve altered these to be a bit more… generic. As in, not specific.

Also, I recognize that these types of conversations happen in any community and basically in general on the internet but this is an autism blog and thus, it’s my topic “du jour”.

But if you’ve been a part of the autism community for any decent length of time or even just been on the internet for more than say… 5 minutes, chances are you might recognize some of these.

Be sure to let me know which conversations seem most familiar to you in the comments.

 

Reading Comprehension

Person 1: Would you like to go for a drink after the movie?
Person 2: I’m not hungry.
Person 1: I didn’t say food, I said a drink.
Person 2: Listen, I don’t even like steak so just stop.
Person 1: What? When did I say steak would be involved?
Person 2: Great, now you’re talking in circles. You don’t even know what you’re saying. Man you’re stupid! This conversation is over. I’m out.
Person 3: What just happened?
Person 1: I have no idea.

Mis-association

Person 1: Hockey looks like fun. It’s fast paced and full of action. It’s a lovely sport.
Person 2: So you’re saying that baseball is a terrible sport, is that it? You prefer hockey over baseball??
Person 1: No, I didn’t say that. I didn’t even mention baseball.
Person 2: I can’t believe that you hate baseball!! It’s a perfectly great game and you have to come and rain all over it.
Person 1: I don’t hate baseball. I was just commenting about hockey, that’s all.
Person 2: People who hate baseball shouldn’t even be on the internet. I hope you die.

Condone-sation?

Person 1: They really should try to put a stop to the fighting in hockey.
Person 2: So what, you think it’s ok to fight in baseball?? All the players rushing the field and hurting each other is suddenly fine with you?
Person 1: What?? No. I don’t think fighting is ok in baseball either.
Person 2: Well that’s what you’re saying. Suddenly fighting in hockey is bad but all this time, you never said a word about the fighting in baseball so obviously you condone it!
Person 1: That is some twisted logic you’ve got going on right there.
Person 2: You’re the one who’s twisted. I can’t believe you actually think it’s fine for there to be all kinds of fighting in baseball but when hockey does it, it’s all rules and regulations with you.
Person 1: Wait, what?? I didn’t say any of what you just said.
Person 2: I’m going to go tell everyone what a bigot you are… how you want there to be more fighting in baseball but none in hockey. God I hope everyone learns to hate you as much as I do.

Para-flipflop-phrase

Person 1: This ice cream sure is cold!
Person 2: So you’re saying that it’s too cold to eat? It’s not that cold, you know.
Person 1: No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying it’s cold. You know, like, I might get brain freeze if I eat it too fast.
Person 2: That’s like saying that a steak is so hot that you might get heart burn. You know you can’t get heart burn from something that’s too hot right. You do have an IQ high enough for that, right?
Person 1: No, it’s not like saying that and yes I do know that. What does my IQ have to do with it?
Person 2: So what, now you question my intelligence? That’s like saying I didn’t even go to high school. I’ll have you know I went to college and was on the honor roll! You probably didn’t even finish elementary.
Person 1: Wait, what? Of course I did. I finished college too. I don’t understand what our IQ has to do with the temperature of ice cream.
Person 2: I knew it, you’re a moron. I can’t talk with someone so stupid.

Victimizer

Person 1: Science is better.
Person 2: No, religion is better.
Person 1: No, science is better.
Person 2: No, religion is better!
Person 1: Listen, religion is all nice with it’s fluffy clouds but science is based on facts.
Person 2: Ah, Fluffy!! How dare you remind me of my childhood hamster!!
Person 1: What? What does your hamster have to do with this?
Person 2: You’re the one who brought it up. And you keep mentioning it!! Don’t you know I was horribly traumatized by the stench of my uncle farting on it and killing it?? It was death by gas cloud man!!
Person 1: Ooooo…. k. Well, I’m sorry I brought up Fluffy.
Person 2: You keep saying his name!! Are you intentionally trying to hurt me!! Is this how you win an argument??? You’re so cruel!!!
Person 1: Wait… what? I just said I was I sorry.
Person 2: You’re a vile and evil person.
Person 1: Ok… well, anyway… back to science vs religion…
Person 2: You don’t even care!! You jab a knife into my gut and then just go on like nothing happened!! Is this how you’re mother raised you!?!?
Person 1: Look, I said I’m sorry about the Fluffy thing. Let’s move on.
Person 2: You’re still talking about it!!! I can’t believe you keep saying his name when you know how much it hurts me!! I’m like, unable to stay seated in my chair right now because I’m just so furious!!
Person 1: I am very sorry that you’re so mad, I’m sorry for what ever I said… can we get back to the topic at hand?
Person 2: Oh no, I’m not leaving until this is resolved. You are going straight to hell and I’m going to see to it that I’m driving the bus mister!!
Person 1: Ok well, this really isn’t going anywhere productive for me so I’m going to go now.
Person 3: What happened here?
Person 2: Religion totally won that argument.

ASSumption

Person 1: Aww…. my baby just sneezed.
Person 2: YOU’RE A TERRIBLE MOTHER!!!!!!

 

Sound familiar to you? Have any to add?

Leave me a comment below!

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Everyone has their own heart song

happy feet - mumbleIn 2006, a cute little movie came out that spawned a lot of fascination towards penguins. Granted, not many other movies or documentaries featured them singing and/or dancing. Still, Happy Feet went on to have enough success as to earn a sequel.

Since we haven’t watched it in my house in a while, I thought I’d put it on again for my boys, who are now 7 (Cameron) and just about to turn 5 (Tyler).

Right at the beginning of the movie, when little Mumble (the star of the show) is born, he starts to dance. He says he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he just can’t stop. His feet are happy.

This amuses my boys to no end and they get up and start dancing… er… well, what they call dancing. I’m sure my neighbor downstairs didn’t think it was dancing.

The movie very quickly went from happy to sad though, as all the other children began to sing, quite beautifully, while poor Mumble sounded terrible.

As Mumble failed and failed again to sing, his parents had this conversation:

Dad: It just ain’t penguin, ok?
Mom: So what if he’s a little different? I’ve always kinda liked different.
Dad: He’s not different. He’s a regular emperor penguin!

Are you starting to see why this movie is the subject of a blog post on an autism blog?

So while I sat there, watching this movie and thinking how familiar it all sounds and feels, it hit full force as the very last lines were narrated to close out the scene of Mumble’s childhood:

Pay no mind to his dancing heart. The kid saw out his school days at the back of the class, lost in his imaginings.
What fabulous worlds lay out there, far beyond the ice?
Was there any place where one small penguin without a heart song could ever truly belong?

It was at this point when Cameron looked at me, quite seriously, and said “He’s sad because he doesn’t have a heart song, right?”

What do you say to a child when you know that he’s asking because he feels like he is that penguin? Does he feel like that penguin? Has he drawn the same similarities I have? Is he really even following along that closely? Maybe he’s just curious like any other child would be? Am I the one that is putting too much of our life into what I’m seeing in this movie?

This is what I told him:

Cameron, he does have a heart song. Everyone has a heart song. A heart song is something in your heart that only you can hear. Those penguins, when they hear it, they’re able to get it out and express it through singing. That’s how they share their heart song with the world.

But little Mumble, he’s not able to sing. For what ever reason, he just can’t. And so his heart song comes out another way, through his feet. He dances. And he dances better than anyone else.

When you hear the music in the movie, but don’t see anyone around playing the music on guitars or drums, what you’re actually hearing is the heart song in that penguin’s heart. So when he’s dancing, he’s dancing to his heart song.

At this point, Cameron asked about us. “Do people have heart songs?”

I explained:

Yes, sort of. But it’s not always music. Some people are really good at drawing, cooking, running really fast, playing video games… we all have something that we love to do and we are very good at it.

That’s our heart song.

If someone really loves music and is really good at it, then perhaps they really do have a heart song. But if someone really loves riding horses and is really good at it, then that is their heart song… only it’s not exactly a song.

We all have one. No matter how different we may think we are or how much anyone else thinks we are, we each have a heart song. And it doesn’t matter if it comes out through our feet and people think it’s weird, so long as it comes out.

Because our heart song is important.

Sure enough, later in the movie, as Mumble ventured out and eventually found the aliens (humans), he failed at being able to communicate with them… that is, until he danced.

So I told Cameron “look, he can communicate with them now.”

Cameron looked at me and asked “What does “communicate” mean?”

Again, I explained to him:

Well, communicating is the way in which we tell each other something. Like, me talking to you. But it’s not always talking. Like, when you see a smile, you know someone’s happy. Or you see someone crying, you know they’re sad. They are “communicating” that to you.

In this case, Mumble was talking but those people don’t understand Penguin talk, so they weren’t communicating very well. They didn’t understand each other. But once Mumble started to dance, and the people all gathered round, they were communicating.

At which point Cameron asked: “So his heart song is how he communicates?”

Yes!! He gets it!

And sure enough, as the movie played on and the humans followed him back to the penguin home land and they all started to dance, he started to see how that one little dancing penguin wasn’t so “different” after all. That what made him different made him very special.

If it wasn’t for his dancing, he never would have found the humans, or communicated with them, and they would have ran out of food.

So no matter how different or weird or “not penguin” it is to find your heart song and to let it out, you have to do it anyway.

We all have one. And it’s special.

It needs to be shared with the world.

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