I credit Autcraft, the minecraft server for players on the Autism spectrum and their families and friends, with teaching the Navigator some very important lessons.

He learned what appropriate online behavior looked like and how a well-run server functioned.

He learned that negative behavior would result in consequences, that he would be given an opportunity to learn, and then be encouraged to move forward.

He learned it so well that he recently received the Autcraft Player of the Week award for his kindness, helpfulness, and patience with a player engaging in perseverative behavior.

He was delighted and proud – and so was I.

But the learning on Autcraft is more than just my kid learning good online social behavior.

The learning goes both ways – the kids learn from the server and the server learns from the kids.

A researcher from the University of California Irvine recently wrote a paper about Autcraft and how it supports children on the Autism spectrum.

Entitled Would You Be Mine: Appropriating Minecraft as an Assistive Technology for Youth with Autism, Ph.D. Candidate Kate Ringland studied “how players and administrators ‘mod’ the Minecraft system to support self-regulation and community engagement.”

One of the most interesting things she found was that

Individual players appropriate the Autcraft virtual world to suit their own needs, shaping their virtual environment, embodied experience, and, in time, influencing the overall experience for everyone in Autcraft.

In other words, she observed that not only did children on the spectrum learn from Autcraft, Autcraft actively incorporated assistive supports into the server that were first designed by the players to support themselves.

She cites an example of a player who dug a hole in the ground and then would close the hole with a block, plunging the player into blackness. The player explained that this served as a sensory break and helped to calm them.

Autcraft administrators then adapted this player-generated idea and created “Quiet Rooms” where all players could go to for sensory breaks. The chat function was disabled in the Quiet Rooms to allow for a social break, as well.

Another player had difficulty reading fast-moving chat conversations and would type in hyphens across the screen to break up conversations for easier reading.

Based on this player adaptation, Autcraft administrators worked with a programmer to develop a new chat mode which allowed players to break up chat on their screens as they needed so that they could follow conversations more easily.

Ms. Ringland recognized the significance of this almost symbiotic process:

The appropriations we observed in Autcraft point to a future model where child-initiated modifications can guide research and design, providing greater access for disempowered communities.

Ms. Ringland presented her paper in 2016 at the ASSETS conference “the premier forum for presenting innovative research on mainstream and specialized assistive technologies, accessible computing, and assistive applications of computer, network, and information technologies.”

And it won the award for the best paper at the conference.

Click here to learn more about Autcraft and how you can support this incredibly valuable resource to the Autism community.