Is playing Minecraft good for kids with autism? According to Stuart Duncan, founder of Autcraft, Minecraft is one of the best games for kids with autism because of its open-ended, sandbox nature and the many avenues it offers for communicating with fellow players.
I had a chance to interview Stuart Duncan, the father of a son affected by autism who was himself diagnosed with autism at the age of 36. Duncan founded Autcraft, a Minecraft server for the autism community, as a safe place for his son to play Minecraft. He had become aware of the bullying and language used on other servers and recognized that many kids with autism were not equipped to handle this type of abuse. He and other parents of kids with autism observed that the negative effect of inappropriate interactions on their kids was dramatic, yet they continued to display an intense desire to get on Minecraft servers and to challenge themselves in their play.
Duncan’s perspective, which is very similar to that of LW4K, is that the best way to teach kids is to catch them where they are. He notes how important this philosophy is for kids with autism. Duncan communicated an old saying among parents of kids with autism, “Your child isn’t ignoring you, he’s waiting for you to join his world.” He then told me, “I can’t think of a more literal example of that than Minecraft. Your child is creating an entire new world. Pick up a controller and join him!” Many parents of kids with autism are well aware of their kids’ love of Minecraft and have been thrilled to have access to a resource such as Autcraft. Some have actually joined them on the Autcraft server.
Duncan has worked very hard to make Autcraft a safe place for kids with autism. He uses a whitelisting system where he approves anyone who is allowed onto the server. He and other “Helpers” demonstrate responsible, positive, and helpful behavior and also have some knowledge of the game to assist beginners.
Autcraft has features and rules to protect players, including:
- Bullying, killing, stealing, griefing, and the like are not tolerated
- Swearing is not allowed
- Players’ buildings and constructions are protected
- All kills, blocks placed, blocks broken, items dropped and picked up, and more are tracked so that we can see exactly what happens anywhere and so Helpers can intervene when necessary.
The benefits of Autcraft have gone far beyond creating a safe environment for kids with autism to play Minecraft. Duncan has watched kids who were nonverbal prior to going onto Autcraft begin communicating with others directly. He has seen many kids with low self-esteem increase their willingness to take risks, write and spell, be more flexible in their problem solving, and develop connections outside of the game environment. He has also talked to many kids who had previously expressed suicidal ideation and has been able to direct them to the help they need.
Autcraft is a tremendous tool for kids with autism to play the game in a vast, open-ended environment. Our newest LearningWorks Live program, Building Skills with Minecraft for Kids with Autism, provides a similar but more focused approach, as our game guides actively work to teach kids skills such as cognitive flexibility, planning, organization, and focus through gameplay. Our program is designed for kids with higher functioning autism, those with Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 1, or those who have had an Asperger’s diagnosis in the past. Our goal as always is to transform game-based learning into real-world skills. To learn more click here.