Computer Games and People on the Autistic Spectrum.

Computer Games seem to be especially appealing to Children and Adults on the spectrum.

We all know that many children (and adults!) on the spectrum enjoy building with LEGO.  There are certain games such as Minecraft and Roblox, which have become a huge success. They are often likened to ‘digital Lego’ because of their ‘blocky’ nature and the fact that the games are used to build and create things.

I think for all people who play these kind of games, there is a certain quality that makes the games hard to leave, and the computers difficult to turn off (I know that all those parents out there know EXACTLY what I mean). However, for people on the spectrum, these games can become THE special interest and all-consuming passion.

Research has previously suggested that children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at risk for problematic video game use, or so-called “video game addiction”.

One study, found that boys with an Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) spent significantly longer playing video games than Neuro-Typical (NT) boys, about one hour a day more. The same study also found that boys with ASC and ADHD were more likely to have video game access in their rooms and have higher scores on a test for problematic video game use.

A more positive finding, is that children with ASC’s  were less likely to play violent first-person shooting games compared to NT children, and preferred role-playing games.

These games, when played interactively, can provide a ‘level playing field’ for children with ASC’s to interact with NT children, and provide social contact where otherwise there would have been none. They can encourage children to work together, share or even to learn programming. Playing popular games can also give children on the spectrum ‘ a way in’ to a conversation and if they are good at the game, can earn kudos in real life. I have heard of Minecraft clubs for children on the spectrum as a way of promoting real-life social interaction with like-minded people. Games such as The Sims can prompt discussion on social expectations.

Minecraft can also be used to help children improve their Executive Function; collecting and arranging items helps with planning and goal setting. This article from Learning Works for Kids discusses this in more detail.

There is evidence that playing these kind of games can help with Dyslexia too.  Researchers in this study found that children who played action video games had improved reading ability and attention skills after 12 hours, while no improvements were found in the children who played non-action games. However this was a small study and needs to be replicated with a larger group.

Controlling the amount of time children spend on these games is easier said than done. I am a self-confessed ‘meanie’ when it comes to computer time. We play on the Wii together, as without my supervision it all ends in tears. I supervise the girls sharing the remotes and encourage kind and supportive language and behaviour. It becomes very draining for me! My girls are allowed one hour each a week (on the same day every week) to play Minecraft (offline). I tell them they have 45 minutes, we time this using a timer. When the time is almost up, I give several ‘countdown’ verbal warnings, and prompt them to ‘put their animals away’ or ‘go home’ (where they are safe from the zombies etc) and finally log off. That’s where the extra 15 minutes disappears to.

Roblox is considered an educational game. The people at Roblox say:

We believe in the theory that kids learn best by making things; by engaging in the creative and complex process of imagining, designing, and constructing. Provide them with a safe place to build, give them the requisite tools, and let them play.

Roblox believe that children learn best when they are in the active roles of designer and builder, but also that their learning is optimized when they assume those roles in a public forum.

Minecraft is….

a game about breaking and placing blocks. At first, people built structures to protect against nocturnal monsters, but as the game grew players worked together to create wonderful, imaginative things.

It can also be about adventuring with friends or watching the sun rise over a blocky ocean. It’s pretty. Brave players battle terrible things in The Nether, which is more scary than pretty. You can also visit a land of mushrooms if it sounds more like your cup of tea.

You can choose to play either ‘survival’ mode, where your food runs out and you have to battle zombie pigmen, spider, skeletons, zombies and creepers. Or there is ‘creative’ mode, where you have all the resources you could ever collect, where you can fly and where you never die. Players also seem to enjoy watching other people play Minecraft on YouTube, people like Cupquake and CaptainSparklez.

Minecraft can be played on most platforms, including Xbox 360, PlayStation, Desktop, mobile phones and tablets. In our house, we are (still) waiting for the Nintendo Wii version, though we do play offline on a laptop.

This article from the BBC talks about how Minecraft is more than just a video game.

However, children on the spectrum who play Minecraft online can be utterly devastated if another player destroys their building or steals their things and this can cause meltdowns.

AutCraft is a fabulous solution. It was created by Stuart Duncan, who is Dad to a child with autism and who is on the spectrum himself. AutCraft can be found here. Check out the FAQ’s for more information.

AutCraft is a whitelisted Minecraft server for children (and adults) that have autism and their families.
What this means is that if you or a family member has autism and you own the computer version of Minecraft, you can apply to be put on the whitelist and play with other people just like you.

The server is administrated by adults that include autistics, parents of autistic children or a family member of someone with autism. There are also “Helpers” that include “jrhelpers” which are children that prove to be responsible, positive and helpful with people; and “srhelpers” which are adults that demonstrate some knowledge of the game as well as being respectful, responsible and helpful.

The features of AutCraft are that swearing, stealing, ‘griefing’, bullying and killing are not tolerated. Players builds can be protected and the admins and helpers are always around. You can ask for their help using a simple command prompt. The AutCraft admins talk to children every day who are bullied, both in real life and on other servers. Stuart Duncans Blog talks more about this the AutCraft community strongly promotes everyone being able to be themselves online. I think this site, indeed this service, deserves to be promoted so much more, there are so many people who could benefit.

Are there any other games you or your children like to play?

How do you handle ‘finishing a game’ when it’s time to do something else?

Do you you find that the benefits of computer games outweigh the drawbacks?

What are your thoughts?


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  1. William harris December 28, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    My nine year old boys got autism and would love him to have a few friends online on game just seen the server autcraft will try that later he loves games

    • Geoff December 28, 2015 at 2:04 pm

      Autcraft is a really great way to play Minecraft, it very well monitored and is as safe as it gets playing with other people. I hope he enjoys playing.

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