Though many people think of Minecraft as a fun game, few consider it a teaching tool. The Minecraft Club is a way to help children with autism spectrum disorder learn social skills alongside their neurotypical peers. Christina Noel, assistant professor in the School of Teacher Education, frequently heard the community call for more inclusive programs for children with autism and knew she wanted to help. Noel then saw an ALIVE Center grant for a research and community partnership and knew she had the perfect idea.
Noel said she wanted to use an area of interest for both neurotypical children and those with autism to create an opportunity for learning social skills, something people with autism often struggle with. Using a more integrated activity is extremely beneficial for both groups of children. The Minecraft Club ran from Sept. 3 to Nov. 5 in the Educational Resources Center in Ransdell Hall. It consisted of 15 Minecraft fans ages 7 to 12. About half of the children had been diagnosed with autism, and the other half were deemed neurotypical.
Using money from the grant, Noel was able to purchase Minecraft servers so children in the club could exclusively use the maps they built rather than playing through the website. The club even had its own Minecraft expert: Ben Hammond, a Franklin senior.Some of the maps had several levels that required teamwork and communication before students could move to the next level. One level prompted students to shoot different targets, and they had to talk to figure out which ones to shoot.
Another level had a maze one student would guide others through, but leaders couldn’t progress themselves until those moving through the maze had passed through and unlocked the door. In Minecraft’s public servers, players can attack each other and destroy parts of the world they built. In Autcraft players are not allowed to do this. The server is designed to teach players with autism to respect each other. Parents on the server are also encouraged to assist younger players by demonstrating the mechanics of the game.
So far, Autcraft is a huge success. The website posted this message, “Please be aware that we are experiencing a very high volume of submissions right now so you may have to wait a day or two for a response.”
The server is only availabe to players running the PC version of the game. Autcraft is currently free to members but its developers ask for donations to keep the service running. To request an invitation to the server or to learn more, visit Autcraft’s website. Autism is a condition that can make you think to differently to other people. It affects the way you live, and how you see the world around you. But some autistic kids say that the game has helped them to become more confident, and make more friends. The community of Autcraft has a therapeutic effect on its gamers: Inside the safe space of the game, players have an opportunity to communicate without worrying about the prospect of being bullied and, in many cases, develop a newfound self-confidence from playing and interacting with friends. For the parents, Autcraft is many things: a way to bond with their son or daughter; a teaching tool; or a safe respite from a chaotic, often cruel and misunderstanding world. Plenty of parents have become as addicted as their children; for some it’s become their primary volunteer outlet. Children with autism have a safe haven to learn how to interact and build with other individuals, and it is a huge step in using video games to help children with disabilities.