Something truly bizarre happened last night. While on the phone with my mother, I found myself saying the following:
“So today I was in a news article on the largest news site in Australia, my book publisher emailed me to say ‘You must be busier than ever! Take all the time you need.’, a television show producer asked me to be on her show and an expo convention asked me to exhibit at their convention this fall.”
How did this happen? What’s happened to me?
I am a guy with Aspergers, I have two sons, one with autism and one without. I work from home, I like to go to the little neighborhood park across the street and I love to play video games, especially when I can do these things with my kids. I have less than no money, I have lots of stress and I’m over weight. I’m like the peace and quiet, I’m very awkward around other people and would gladly not talk to anyone at all if given that as an option.
Two years ago, I started what I thought would be a quiet little Minecraft server with maybe a handful of people on it. My way of helping out some parents that were in search of other parents on social media so that their autistic children could play together in peace. I just wanted to help. No one had to know.
No one had to know.
It took less than an hour of telling those parents about it before I realized that this wasn’t going to be a quiet little peaceful Minecraft server. Less than 2 days later, I had over 750 emails requesting to join.
Still though, we continued along relatively quietly. Word of mouth spread like wildfire bringing us far more players than I ever dreamed imaginable but outside of the autism community, it was still very much our little hidden secret. Autism parents thanked me, told me how great it was… it was nice.
At the end of 2014, 1.5 years in, all of that changed. First BuzzFeed found us and then CHCH television. From the better part of December and January, I suddenly found myself in the middle of my “15 minutes of fame.” And it was scary.
I like to think I did alright, being on television and answering hours and hours of questions. But that was not me. That’s not why I started the server and it’s most certainly not anything I had ever dreamed of doing nor did I want to. I’m a quiet and shy guy. I like to keep to myself. I like to not draw attention to myself. I kept thinking… no one had to know.
So here we are, June 2015 and I find myself with a book publisher wanting me to write a book, television producers phoning me and conventions wanting me to make appearances. A shy, quiet, wanting to be at home on the couch with an X-Box controller dad with autism who wonders to himself… what ever happened to “no one has to know?”
So what happened?
Somewhere along the way I sort of snapped. I was exhausted and I had been talking to suicidal children on the server far too often and it hit me… the server has done better than anyone imagined but it did so due to how bad the bullying of autistic Minecraft players really is. I realized then that this wasn’t a story about success but rather a story about tragedy.
If my mission was to give those children with autism a safe place in the beginning, in that instant, it morphed into a mission to both make people aware and to put an end to the bullying.
I created “A Plea to the Minecraft Community” and have done so for two years in a row to help stop the bullying and I found myself pleading with the cameras and the microphones and the journalists to help me tell the world just how bad it really is.
I still didn’t like the spotlight, I still cringed every time the phone rang or I was asked to send them my Skype information but I did it anyway. I had to do it. It was me they wanted to talk to. They wanted to know what kind of person would start a server like that, devote the time like that, spend many sleepless nights talking to players like that… the story they wanted was as much about me as it was the actual server and I knew, deep down I knew that I haven’t made any sort of difference at all yet. They want to write about the difference the server makes? The difference I make? I want them to write about the difference I want them to help me make. I want them to write about the real problem.
What happened? I found a purpose. A reason to put my fears and shyness and my autistic tendencies aside and do it anyway because those kids (and some adults too) that I talk to on the server every day are worth it.
Last night, I discovered that I have another reason. One I’ve sort of known about all along but it never really hit me until right after I said that one very poignant sentence and more importantly, to whom I had said it.
I hang up my fears and desires to sit by myself and not answer the phone and I do it for my mother. As corny as that sounds. Growing up with autism and not knowing it, I struggled. I know I made her proud all the same but still, I struggled. It was hard for me and more often than not, and I mean, way more often, I felt like a failure. More so, I felt like I was letting her down. Her only son. What a let down I must have been.
So now I have a chance to make her proud. I have a chance to make a difference and I do so using all the wisdom and heart that she raised me with. I still struggle and I still feel like a failure a lot of times with no money and tons of stress but at the same time… book publishers are phoning me, television producers, journalists, convention organizers… me! I’m still just a dad, in his living room holding a video game controller in his hands, praying the phone doesn’t ring so that I won’t be forced to have to talk to someone.
And yet these people are phoning me and they’re phoning for all the right reasons. I’m not in the news because autistics have it hard or need services or are shut-ins… which I totally am. No, they want to hear about the wonderful things I’ve been doing all this time. All this time that I kept thinking ‘no one needs to know’.
Now I realize… the world does need to know. For those children that come to me for safety. Those children need to know. Their parents need to know. People need to know about them, how great they are and how unsafe they still are. How bad the bullying still is out there. The world needs to know.
And my mother, she needs to know. For all she’s done to raise me this way, to help me get this far and give me the tools to accomplish these things, I put aside my desires to say no to interviews and make myself do them. I want her to be a proud mother. I want her to be proud of her son. She deserves that much.
I know now what happened and even though I’ll likely never get used to it and always feel awkward about it, I now realize one thing… people need to know.
Given the right motivation, given the right reasons… a life time of being a struggling, shy and private autistic was thrown to the side and I found myself becoming a very outspoken and public autistic. A man with purpose. Given the right motivations, I believe any one else could do the same as well.