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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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Spread the word to end the word – a suggested suitable replacement

Spread the word to end the word

Today is, once again, the day to end the word. The “r-word”.  Really though, it’s every day, isn’t it? They just make official days to get us bloggers all talking about it at the same time. Which is brilliant. But really, we all need to be talking about it any time the word comes up or when ever the opportunity arises. Not to preach to our friends, family or even strangers about how we want them to talk but to suggest that there may be a better way.

That’s how I look at this, as an opportunity. And since I’ve been at this for a while, I think I know my audience (that’s you) pretty well. Which means that I know you’ve already heard about this and more so, most likely already removed that word from your vocabulary. Even if not, for what ever reason, you’ve at least heard of it and made your decision. (although I do hope you’ll reconsider it someday)

So I won’t sit here and preach to you. You know how it hurts me since I have a child with special needs. You know how it hurts others from those in care facilities to those who simply learn at a slower rate than “normal.” You know all the things I could possibly say to you to convince you to stop using that word.

Instead, I would ask that you seize your opportunities. As awkward as they may be or as shy as you may be or as uncomfortable as it may become, speak up.

Whether it’s a family member, an old friend or some person on the bus, speak up. Be nice, don’t be preachy, and just gently suggest that you and many people find that word offensive no matter how it’s used or in which way it’s intended. Suggest that, even though you valuable their right to say and do as they please, you just request that they understand that it is offensive to many and to take the time to consider all that this implies.

There is one word that I often suggest as a replacement, not to be used in place of, but to be thought of instead. An r-word to replace an r-word.

That word is respect.

When a person is about to or has already used the r-word, think about the other r-word, respect. Respect those that find it offensive. Respect those that are having to hear it. Respect those that are indirectly implied by your using it. Respect yourself enough to have a more evolved vocabulary and sense of community.

You don’t have to respect an individual, in the way in which you’d respect a peer, but to respect the ideal behind those are trying to do something right. For the good of the children, the children’s parents and everyone around the world.

So no, I’m not going to ask that you not use the word. All I ask is that you take today and any day to speak up when someone does. Be respectful in suggesting that they do the same.

And in the mean time, read and share because the more that we get the word out to the world, the faster we can get the word out of the world.


End The Word

Sticks and Stones

What’s in a word?

Being Retarded


If you have written a post or found a post about this, please share and I’ll add it to the list above.

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Autistic people should be

It’s fully understandable if the title seems to be cut a little short. It does sound like there should be something following that but I can assure you, I intended it exactly as I wrote it.

Autistic People Should Be

Autistic People Should Be

Autistic people should be. That’s it.

Autistic people should exist. They should be accepted. They should be treated with respect. They should just, very simply, be.

There’s a really great “flash blog” going on right now, based on the phrase “autistic people should”. The blog can be found here: http://autisticpeopleshould.blogspot.ca/

The reason for this is that some folks noticed that when they typed in “autistic people should” into Google, Bing or even Facebook’s search, the auto-complete feature of those search forms would finish the phrase for them, prompting them to search for “autistic people should die.”

Basically, this means that this phrase is out there so much that all these search places try to make their best guess that it’s most likely what it is that you’re searching for.

This is disturbing, to say the least. I can’t imagine most people feel this way or would ever want to be searching for that.

But whether that is the case or not, it’s a great idea to write up a blog post or to get some notes out there on the internet to force these search engines to offer up some alternative choices, or better yet, to no longer have the current suggestion listed at all.

And so, this post is dedicated to just that. My contribution to the “autistic people should” phrase and how I believe it should end.

It’s as many before me have said, without autistics or at least, autistic traits, there would be far less engineers, mathematicians, scientists, computer people and on and on. Autistics have always been here, even if it seems like it’s a relatively new thing. Autistics have contributed to far more through out history than you could ever imagine.

Without autistics, there would be far fewer savants, fewer advances in technology, fewer discoveries in science. Without autistics, well, who knows… perhaps we never would have even had the wheel. That seems a bit far fetched, right? But think about how long human history is and at what point, somewhere, some autistic may have contributed something important that without it, we could be hundreds of years behind where we are now.

Bringing it a bit closer to home, imagine a young couple, naive and arrogant, their whole lives ahead of them. They don’t know what autism is but assume it’s just bad and that autistics simply just should not be. Then this couple finds themselves as new parents and their child isn’t making eye contact or responding to their name. Would these people still feel as they did before? Would they still think that their precious little child should die simply because he or she is different? Or would they do everything in their power to ensure that their child has a bright and happy future?

Autistics should be.

Because the alternative is unthinkable.


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What my autistic child wishes for you to know

What does my autistic child wish for you to know?

He’s a kid.

What? You were expecting me to say that he has special needs, he sometimes needs a little extra patience from you, a little less judgment, that sometimes he really is so focused on something that he doesn’t hear you, that sometimes he has meltdowns that may seem to be happening for no reason to you, that he’s not really like that guy in the last Hollywood movie or TV show you saw that had some guy with autism?

See, you already know those things. Even if you don’t know much about autism, you know those things. It’s why you expected me and anyone else who writes a “what my autistic child wants you to know” article to list things like that, maybe in hopes that we’d mention something new or say something in some new better or more enlightening way.

kidsThe truth is, the one simple and honest to goodness truth is, which is the one simple thing that so many people seem to forget, for what ever reason, is that a kid is a kid.

All children need extra patience. All children should be judgment free. All children should be able and encouraged to focus on what they love sometimes.

I could go on and on but having a child with autism hasn’t made me realize how much more I need to do for him, it’s made me realize how much more I can do for him, for my other son and for all children.

When I go to my kid’s school and see other children, they say “Hi Mr Duncan!” because they know me. Some can’t speak and give me a wave. It’s because I help them when they need it. Because I smile at them and for them, even when it may seem like they’re not looking my way. Because I see a child. Not a troubled child, not a special child, not a slow child, not a disabled child…  just a child being a child.

And it’s awesome.

I could argue that because my son has autism, it’s made me a better parent and even a better person in general because all of those things you thought I was going to say about autism, while true, have helped me to realize that those are all things that I should be applying to my other child as well and to all children.

So I’m not going to give you a long bullet point list of behaviors, clinical mumbo jumbo or anything else because there’s a bunch of those articles already out there. And even though I’m not doing that, I do encourage you to find them and check them out. More than one, as they all have something the others don’t.

And then when you’re done reading them, consider this… how can you apply what you now know to all children?

So stop looking at a child as “weird” or “not normal” or as “a problem” and stop thinking about how terrible the parent is because the child is not as you would expect them to be. Because yes, that child may have autism but you know what, it doesn’t matter.

Because a kid is a kid. And when you learn how to best understand, accept, respect and encourage the most needing of children, you can then apply that to all children.

They’ll be better off for it and so will you.

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This is the problem with acceptance

Yesterday I wrote “This is the problem with awareness” so I think it’s only fair that I flip to the other sign of the coin and write about the problem with acceptance.

Acceptance Paradox

There is this “place” that people can reach when they have total acceptance. It’s a place of knowing who they are and being fine with it.

It’s called the Acceptance Paradox. You can read more about it here: http://www.creativitypost.com/create/the_acceptance_paradox

An excerpt from it, which explains how it goes:

“Instead of defending yourself against your own self-criticisms. You don’t try to build yourself up or fight back. Instead, you do just the opposite: You simply accept the fact that you are broken, imperfect, and defective. You accept your shortcomings with honesty and inner peace. The surprising result is that you can often gain invulnerability when you make yourself completely vulnerable and defenseless.”

PS, try not to read too much into the “broken, imperfect and defective” parts. This was written about humanity in general, not about autism or any other disorder/disability.

Now, in this article and as it is explained is that you make yourself invincible by no longer caring what anyone says about you.. that you accept you for you, for better or worse and you are completely at peace with that.

What I’ve seen of this though, is not always so peaceful and wonderful.

Acceptance vs Unwillingness to Change

I want to talk about etiquette and manners… one of Temple Grandin’s favorite topics.

Taken from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35150832/ns/health-mental_health/:

“The other thing is, teach these kids manners. I was raised in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and manners were drilled into me. I see kids [on the spectrum] today that have no manners. That’s going to hurt them. You can’t punish a child who is acting out because of sensory overload. But it’s unacceptable to see kids throwing things and slapping people. I see kids with Asperger’s [a mild form of autism] who can’t hold a job because they are constantly late. Teach kids to use an alarm clock. This is common sense and sometimes we forget about common sense. Autism is used too much as an excuse for bad behavior.” ~ Temple Grandin

To give a couple of examples:

During a conversation, sometimes an autistic can seem uncaring or rude due to a straight forward or literal response in a conversation. But autistics, like anyone, can learn to “think before you speak”… it may just be a bigger struggle. But that’s not even required so long as a simple apology is offered should those responses actually offend someone.

I’ve found several instances where, instead of an apology or explanation, the response is more so a dismissal of the other person’s feelings… that the person has to just accept the response as it is perceived (rude and uncaring) because the person who said it is autistic. They’re not allowed to be offended, they must have acceptance.

In this scenario, the autistic has acceptance, in that they may be perceived that way but they don’t care. And acceptance from the person they are conversing with in that they have to just not be offended no matter how rude the response may have seemed.

In this form of Acceptance Paradox, there is no real inner peace to be achieved. One person is offended while the other person thinks they should just get used to it.

An apology or explanation is certainly not always warranted… such as for a meltdown. Imagine a gathering at your house and when things get to be too much, sensory overload takes over and someone blows up, makes a scene and leaves. A short while later, they return and the gathering continues.

Is an apology necessary? Well, it shouldn’t be. If people are accepting, they simply know that the person needed a break for a bit. Still though, an apology does go a long way towards increased acceptance.

Imagine the person returns and says “I’m really sorry for earlier… I was just at the end of my rope, needed a minute… I’m ok now. I hope I didn’t disturb the party.” Everyone would be more than accepting… in fact, if anyone there was struggling with accepting such a scene, they’d now be far more apt to accept it now and in the future should it happen again.

Manners… they go a very long way.

Acceptance is Broken

There really should be no limits to acceptance, in a perfect world but really, there are.

This is humanity we’re talking about… autism or not. We all talk before we think, we all get offended sometimes, we all have to say sorry sometimes. And therefore, there are some limits placed on acceptance.

Just like respect, I can respect a person that I disagree with… even one that says or does something that I find to be in poor taste. I still respect them. I still accept them. I just don’t agree with what they said or did. That’s a limitation of my acceptance. Can a person be fully accepting and yet not accepting in certain situations at the same time?

Speaking of respect, it goes both ways. In the earlier example, person A is inadvertently rude to person B… and person B has to just accept it, without an apology? Let’s flip it around. If person B is offended and would like an apology… if there is to be mutual respect and acceptance, isn’t it now up to person A to be accepting?

Sure, person A could still refuse to apologize and insist that person B just be accepting of their unintentional rude ways… but that also means that person A has to now accept that person B is offended, which again, puts you into a paradox. How can you insist that a person accept you for being rude if you accept them for being offended by it?

In this case, acceptance is broken.


A Paradox

Speaking Personally

If my children offend someone, they say sorry. My children know not to be mean. My children know to say please when they ask for something.

If my children grow up to become bullies, I hope and pray that someone knocks them on their butt and shows them just how wrong it is.

I accept my children for who they are and I know they will do great things with their life. One has autism, one does not. I don’t care, it doesn’t matter. They’re both awesome. And I will do everything in my power to ensure that they know they’re awesome and never let what anyone says ever take that away.

But if either of them is ever lacking in manners, they’ll hear about it.

Because that, I won’t accept.

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