Minecraft and Autism: Exploration, Flexibility and the Joy of Cave Spelunking

Minecraft‘s open-ended gameplay makes it a great platform for learning. For children with autism spectrum disorders, the game can be particularly helpful in teaching key cognitive skills like Self-Awareness, Flexibility and Self-Control. By setting some simple gameplay goals and challenges, parents and educators can turn the game into a powerful tool for developing the thinking skills which children with ASD commonly struggle.

To get things started, we’ll briefly introduce the Flexibility thinking skill, then cite specific examples of how it is used in the game. We’ll conclude with an in-game project that challenges kids to exercise and identify the use of Flexibility skills in-game. Players who have not completed the goals listed in the Play Together section of our Minecraft Playbook may wish to do so before continuing with this article.

Minecraft and Autism: How Flexible Thinking Helps In The Game

Flexibility is the thinking skill that focuses on a child’s ability to adapt to new situations, improvise, and shift strategies to meet different types of challenges. While playing Minecraft you will need to use these skills constantly. Minecraft and autism  is a great combo for practicing flexibility skills. Because of the random nature of the game players must be always alert and ready to change their plans at any moment. Rarely, if ever, is there a time when your expectations are not being challenged by enemies, environmental obstacles, or even your own equipment. In order to improve your Flexibility skills and in-turn your gameplay experience you must be able to think on your feet.

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Minecraft CreeperMinecraft is a game of dealing with transitions. Your goals are constantly changing depending on the situation you are facing. Interruptions can come from any source. Enemies attacking you while you build, running out of materials, or simply taking a misstep off a cliff are all examples of occurrences that can and will happen throughout your time in Minecraft. Improvisation is a skill that experienced players have developed to handle the flux of distractions, the most common being enemies. While it can be beneficial to kill enemies (experience and items), often you are ill-prepared or too weak to fight. In these cases it would be foolish to waste your time and progress on enemies. Instead use your creativity to adapt to the environment to avoid or bypass them. Remember that you have the ability to transform the world by placing blocks. Sometimes this can be your greatest defense.

Minecraft ExplorationExploring the world above ground requires players to be attentive and able to shift expectations. Traveling to different biomes can greatly change the play-style of the player. Walking through a forest rather than an open plain makes navigating the world a bit easier, as it provides landmarks to help you know where you are. Also, trekking through the open plains make you easier to spot for enemies. This just one example of how simple shifts in the game are always taking place. If players cannot adopt alternative strategies or think-quickly on their feet the game will become overwhelming.

Minecraft and Autism Project: Cave Spelunking

Minecraft CavingNo other area requires more concentration and adaptability than Minecraft’s deep caverns and caves. The darkness — mixed with the constant threat of enemies — makes it an ideal location to practice flexible problem solving. Blindly following tunnels with get you lost and quickly over your head, the more so the deeper you venture. Some of the larger caves have many open caverns that are usually infested with enemies. Players using good flexibility skills will be able to adjust to these changing environments and find safe routes to the precious materials found deep in the caves. While you may run into some unavoidable enemies, know that most can be avoided with some consideration and quick thinking.

Project Goals:

  • Reach the center of the Minecraft world through a naturally formed cave, dungeon, or abandoned mineshaft
  • Harvest 25 redstone, 12 gold, and 3 diamonds
  • Bonus: Locate and destroy a monster spawner in the dungeon or abandoned mine

Cave entrances appear sporadically across Minecraft so keep your eyes open for large holes in the ground while you are exploring. While not all caves will reach the bottom of the world, dungeons and abandoned mines typically will. Make sure you prepare yourself before entering these formations, they are much larger and more dangerous than you think. For more information regarding the use of your Flexibility skills in Minecraft check out the Playbook or the appropriate Thinking Skills page.

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