Tag Archives | friendship

This is why I see children with autism very differently than everyone else

When I started Autcraft, I did so to help out the parents on social media that cried out for someplace that their autistic children could play together without the fear of bullying or torment. On June 23rd, I told a small number of those parent and within two days, I received over 750 emails.

That was when I realized just how big this bullying problem really is.

Since then, Autcraft has kept thousands of children safe from bullies. But that’s not all. That’s just the start.

Children came to the server shy, scared and unsure of what to expect. Many didn’t speak in public chat for quite some time. You could say that it went as most people would expect of children that struggle with communication and social structures. Anxiety, fear and shyness were the foundation that most new players started their experience on the server with.

What happened from there is truly amazing.

The players opened up to each other. They supported each other, they shared with each other, praised each other, encouraged each other and lifted each other higher. They did these things because they knew that there would be no one there to push them back down again.

no fearFor the first time in their lives, they were free from the burden of fear. No longer afraid to be bullied or judged or embarrassed or even to fail, these kids felt safe enough to share who they are, what they like, what they think and they even felt safe enough to make mistakes. They weren’t afraid to spell things wrong or to say the wrong thing. They weren’t afraid to admit that they were interested in things that people elsewhere might tease them for.

As they spoke up more and more, their reading and writing improved, manners improved, their control over their emotions improved, they worked together to solve problems and learned from each other… the progress that they made baffled their therapists.

Many people credit me for this as I am the creator of the server but the truth is that there are many factors to consider.

Anonymity has always played a big part in how people behave online. But for these kids with autism, it isn’t the biggest contributor to their success. In fact, for most that have played on servers prior to Autcraft, their fears only grew. Constant bullying, frustrations and rage often meant that they couldn’t even participate much less find any enjoyment. This is why their parents reached out in the first place. It’s why Autcraft was created. Their anonymity did not help them there.

However on Autcraft, that same anonymity does help. In the game, they are an avatar. That’s it. They don’t have to think about the their body language, facial expressions, any fidgeting they might do or people making noises around them. In the game, they’re a collection of pixels as are the people they’re talking to. There is nothing to focus on nor anything to distract them. The social aspect is narrowed down and streamlined.

The second biggest factor is that I created the server based on a foundation of communication. Anyone caught doing anything wrong will be spoken too. We explain what they did wrong, why it’s wrong and better alternatives. Children are encouraged to confess so that things can be fixed and moved on from. They learn that we don’t get mad and that they don’t have to be afraid of us. They learn that we understand them and if not, that we want to. They become comfortable talking to us because of that understanding and they learn that being open and honest from the start is the best way to avoid having things get worse later. They are no longer afraid of making us angry, they are no longer afraid that they’ll be punished and they are no longer afraid to admit that they’ve been wrong.

So what is the biggest factor towards the success of all of these great kids? Themselves and the community that they’ve created. This community gets stronger and stronger all the time and it’s all in how they treat and support each other. Once the fear is gone and they start working together, nothing can stop them.

Once they are free to share their interests, they find other children that share those interests. No longer being afraid means that they don’t feel like they have to fake their interests to either hide or to seem like a desirable friend to others. No matter how much they think others might find their interests odd, there is almost always someone that also has that very same interest. Once they find each other, they teach each other new things and share new things and really start to grow and progress together.

They aren’t being taught how to read and write, they are actively trying to get better at it on their own and in their own way. They have a desire to do it because it excites them, because it makes things better for them. Before the server, it seemed like people were trying to force them to learn things they just didn’t understand.

I’ve seen autistic children talk for the first time ever after playing on my server. I’ve seen countless children make friends for the first time ever after being on my server. I’ve written letters of reference for children that have gone off to get their first jobs after being on my server. I’ve seen children become role models and leaders!

All of this and so much more and it’s because they’re not afraid. That’s it. That’s all it is. They aren’t afraid of what a bully might say or do. They aren’t afraid of being teased for who they are or what they like. They aren’t afraid of being embarrassed for saying or doing something wrong. They aren’t afraid to make a mistake.

When most people think of children with autism or even when they talk to children with autism, the child they think they see before them isn’t the true child. The person they’re talking to is a collection of fears and anxieties. The child may even simply be doing what they think you want them to do rather than what they’d do naturally. They present to you a facade that hides the real child deep inside. The fear of what you think of them, of how you will judge them and of all the ways in which they might do something wrong… these fears are preventing you from talking to the true child hidden within.

On Autcraft, within their community of peers, friends, supporters, brothers, sisters, in that place where these kids feel safest of all is where I get to see them for who they really are. They are strong, they are proud, they are funny and they are brilliant.

If you want to see real progress, real growth, real education and real happiness, you must remove the fear. If you want to see a child for whom they truly are, you must remove their fear. If you want to be you… you must not be afraid.

When you can strip away that fear, whether you overcome it or push it aside, when fear is no longer holding you back, you stand taller and you feel stronger. When you can do that, you find people that will support you, encourage you, be your friend and be a part of your team.

No matter your race, gender, sexuality, religion, political views or anything else, whether you have autism or not, no matter who you are or where you are in life… when you remove the fear from your life, you’ll find people that will join you and together, anything is possible.

Without fear, anything is possible.

Comments { 1 }

Connecting with a child that has autism – which is real? Face to face or virtual?

Talking with some of the parents that help to run Autcraft, we had an interesting discussion about how some professionals or “experts” still don’t see any value in video games because, from their perspective, they are not “real.” But what is real? Is it a face to face conversation? How about a conversation via the phone? Or a video call? How about two avatars that represent ourselves that are face to face, talking?

When an expert talks about what is real, they come from the traditional, textbook approach to therapy in which the only way to truly understand and assess a person is via physical observation… being face to face. And many times this is very true. I wouldn’t want anyone trying to diagnose my children with anything without having met them at least once.

They’re not entirely wrong in that, from a virtual perspective, which is the one I’m most accustomed to, I find that it’s easy to almost sort of forget that the person you’re talking to is a very real person. When a player is acting out on my Minecraft server or behaving inappropriately, it’s easy to lose patience with them or become frustrated with them, especially if it’s an ongoing, repetitive behavior. Really though, if we had a webcam on them or were in the room with them to see the innocent looking little boy or girl who’s not understanding what they’re doing or on the brink of crying… we would approach the situation quite differently. Perhaps our patience wouldn’t leave us so quickly. Perhaps we’d better perceive the behavior and thus, the cause and solution for it.

Still though, having been talking to and helping literally thousands of children with autism over the last couple of years, I’ve come to realize that there is a very real benefit to not being face to face with them. By removing the anxiety, fear and shyness that can come so easily to a child with autism when face to face with anyone, much less a stranger, you can finally get to what is truly real… the child.

All children, especially those with autism, will likely take a very long time (if ever) to finally open up to you and reveal their true selves. Finding a way through their fear or anxiety or even just their desire to please you by saying what you want to hear, it’s extremely difficult to have a child reveal their true personality. Some parents are actually still waiting for this to happen from their own children, so what hope does an “expert” have just by insisting that what’s real is simply, face to face.

Having a virtual conversation means not having to think about your body language, facial expressions, eye contact, fidgeting, what the other person’s body language or facial expressions might mean, you can take the time to choose your words carefully and also you feel more free to just say what’s on your mind because… well, as ironic as all of this is… it feels like it’s not real! If it doesn’t feel real to the child (no human there, no repercussions, no one will ever know), then there’s no reason not to do and say what ever is on your mind.

So sure, maybe the experts don’t see it as real and maybe those kids don’t really see it as real either but for me, the guy in the middle of it all, I welcome that because I can use that finally get to what is truly real… the child’s real self.

Why does Autcraft make such a huge difference in people’s lives if it’s just a game and not real to so many people?

lisa simpson friendshipWell, because we all know the value in having someone to talk to. Someone that you can be honest with, someone that makes you feel safe and someone that you know that you can be real with. You can share your fears, insecurities, talk about feeling suicidal or even, talk about the wonderful things in your life, the things that make you feel great that you fear people might tease you for… you can share as much or as little as you wish too because you are in a place where you don’t have to be face to face to feel safe. And video games, in my case, my Minecraft server, gives many of these kids exactly that. A not real environment where they feel more real than anywhere else in their lives.

So instead of trying to figure out what is and isn’t real, perhaps instead you should be asking which interpretation of real is most important to you.

Comments { 0 }

The importance of friendships for autistics

I often hear people talk about how important friendships are, to have friends, to be social, to interact with your fellow human beings.

Sometimes I question this because really, who says that you have to? Who says that some people can’t be much more content just being by themselves, doing their own things. Who are we to tell others what they have to do or what they really need in order to be happy?

Then, there are those people with Autism that fall all over the spectrum…. some who want friends but can’t make any, those who want friends and get friends but still feel like they can’t, those who do not want friends at all and have no friends and even, strangely, those who do not want friends but always seem to end up having friends.

It is a spectrum after all.

Pushing your child into friendships

If you’re in the “must have friends” camp, do you push your child into situations to make friends? Do you tell them that they have to try to be friends? Do you find that your behavior or things you say may make them have the same “must have friends” beliefs you do and if you do, do you think that it might just set them up for depression when/if they are unable to make friends?

On the other hand though, if you don’t push them… perhaps they never will make friends, when in reality they really wish they could. Autism presents a pretty large barrier in the way of fear, miscommunications and more that make is very difficult to make friends.

Perhaps your child may even feel that they do not need or want friends but simply does not understand the benefits or positives because they simply have not had a friend before. Maybe they will be much happier when they eventually do have a friend.

The one thing that is for certain

friendshipI can tell you one thing with absolute certainty… if your child struggles to make friends, but wants to make friends and does have a friend… you had better set aside time and find a way for them to get together.

Your children will have a lot of things and people in their lives that they will feel are important but if they have to deal with the complications that Autism presents, they are going to need the extra time.

Friends can be very rare to a child with Autism, friends can be rare to some children in general. And if they require that kind of relationship, if they get really sad because they have no friends, then you, as the parent, are going to have to give up some of your time to let them play.

You’ll have to brave the weather, give up a movie… what ever you have to do.

Being friends, like everything, takes practice. Communicating, sharing, taking turns, imaginative play…. everything that you can imagine about being friends… takes practice.

And the more practice you get, the better you become at it. Not only to become better friends but to make more friends.

Cameron and his friends

Cameron had a couple of friends, sort of, in his first year of school but really, they were more like people his age that he felt more comfortable with than the others. This year though, he has a couple of friends in his class that he actually identifies with and enjoys having with him.

He not only desires their company but he needs it. This is a huge blessing because, while I wouldn’t really mind if he had no interest in having friends, I, myself, am happier that he does like having friends.

He is so happy with them. He is so happy when he knows he’ll get to see them.

And we’re more than happy to accommodate him as much as possible.

Comments { 1 }

The importance of friends in Autism

I’ve often found the concept of friendship quite complicated. So many people try to define it with inspiring quotes such as “a friend is someone running to you when everyone else is running away” or “a friend helps you move, a true friend helps you move bodies.”

Just about the only thing close to being as important as family (in some people’s case, it’s even more important than family) is a good solid friendship. Quite often, in certain circumstances, friends will be there for you even when family won’t.

The point of this is that when it comes to Autism, at least in the case of my own son, the concept of friendship is so much more complex than that, yet… extremely simplistic at the same time.

To watch my son at school, you see all of the children kind of play side by side but there is not a lot of actual playing together. It’s almost clinical in the way that the children go here, go there, do this and do that as though they’re only vaguely aware of each others existence.

But they are aware, I could argue even more aware of each other than children in a ‘regular’ classroom might be. You can ask any one of them what the other children are doing and they know, they know what each other likes and dislikes.. they know who they like more than the others.

One child in my son’s class is “lower functioning” than the others and so he doesn’t talk, he gets aggressive sometimes with a push or random hair pull (far less since he started he started in September) but obviously, he’s not one of the children that my son identifies as a friend. The others are.

He gets excited when his friends birthdays are coming up even though they spend their birthdays at separate tables, doing separate things, eating things separately.

Doing something together – Not what is important

For my son, doing something together is not what is important. Doing something together leads to conflicts, leads to him possibly losing (if it’s a game)… he, and his friends in his class, are very happy knowing that each other is there, even if seated at separate tables. And when one child isn’t there, Cameron tells me about it. If it’s a friend that he particularly likes, he may even be disappointed or sad.


This is one of those things that builds a level of friendship but doesn’t create nor define the friendship. Keep in mind, this is from the point of view of my son… but he can consider someone a friend from the moment he meets someone. Primarily because he has no reason to think they’re not a friend. They have not done anything wrong to him, so I guess the old “innocent until proven guilty” motto is what he goes by. And rightly so.. children should know not to take candy from strangers but shouldn’t have had to deal with anything traumatic enough to make them believe that people are out to get them in some way. Why wouldn’t they like people until given a reason not to?

So easily defeated

When the children do play a game together, the adults over-seeing the games tend to try to make it as fair as possible, whether it’s their teachers or us parents. Everyone gets a turn to win. But that’s not always how it works out, there isn’t always an adult there or someone just doesn’t get their turn to win, for what ever reason.

It’s at moments like these where my son will not only break down but remain in a very miserable funk for the rest of the day as he declares to the world that no one will ever be his friend ever again… no one lets him win.

This can happen for many reasons, such as not sharing, not listening to his wishes/demands and so forth… a friend that isn’t doing what he thinks as the friendly thing to do immediately sends him into a tantrum filled tirade about how he’ll never have friends again.

And to think that some doctors still try to convince me that people with Autism are emotionless.

Easily abandoned

Sometimes he doesn’t feel like he’ll never have a friend again, sometimes he’s all too eager to throw away what ever friend he does have the moment he’s mad at them.

Now, this is more of a “every child goes through this” thing than it is an Autistic trait, but it still is worth mentioning… mostly just because us parents know it’s cute.

Your child does something wrong, you send them to their room or for a time out and they storm off yelling “That’s it, you’re not allowed to be my friend anymore!”

You try not to let them hear you chuckle because this is very serious to them. In the case of Autism, perhaps even more so because as I have mentioned, friendships are so very important.


All too often I read or hear about people saying how their children with Autism can’t make friends, or are constantly heart broken about not having friends or the worst one… are incapable of having friends.

In many cases, it is true that some of these people do not have friends, or lose friends and so forth but also, in many other cases, it is part of the overly complex nature of the simplicity that is involved.

I don’t profess to know how it is for you or your children, every individual is very different. What I can tell you though, is that friendship is extremely important in my son’s life… so important that if he’s mad at you, you don’t get to be his friend, if his friend isn’t friendly, he’s lost all hope on friendships, if a friend isn’t there, he’s sad.

If I wasn’t able to be in his school from time to time, if I wasn’t able to hear from his teachers and the parents of his classmates, I might not know how serious and how not serious some of the things he says are.

Next time I hear a doctor tell me that people with Autism are emotionless, or unable to have real friendships, I’ll have some words for them… clearly those doctors either don’t deal with people that have Autism or they aren’t paying enough attention.

Comments { 1 }