This is a quick blog post and an appeal for feedback from the autism community. Unlike other posts, I’m going to open this one for comments (assuming it has worked which I’m not sure about…). The only reason I haven’t done this before was lack of experience of blogging and I think it is probably long overdue. The settings mean that any new commenter (which will be everyone at this stage) will need their first comment approved, but thereafter previously approved commenters will be able to comment on future blogs without additional approval. So please do just pop in a message and if you have any problems email me (my details are on the right hand side of the page).
So, to the point of this post. I’ve been discussing with a student her PhD proposal. She is wanting to look at how computer games which require either collaboration between players or encourage communication through online forums etc. could be used to provide older children (probably about 10 – 12 years old) with autism with a way to make friends. We’re interested in a lot of aspects – Could a complex game inspire an otherwise reserved autistic child to make contact with others to get help or to share achievements? Could a game create an environment where the child feels confident and happy and can excel relative to their peers? Would an after-school club based around a computer game be a good setting for a child with autism to make friends? Minecraft, and specifically the Autcraft server is a good example of the kind of computer game we might be working with in this study.
One of the big issues we need to iron out at this very early stage, is whether we’re thinking about creating an autism-specific club or community, or whether we’re looking to do something where children with and without autism work together. This kind of decision has huge consequences for the practicalities of research. For example, if we do an after-school club in an autism-specific school, we would be able to work with a larger number of kids, but wouldn’t be able to look at interactions with non-autistic peers. If we worked in a mainstream school, there might only be a couple of kids with autism there, which doesn’t make for the most powerful of research conclusions. But it is more true to the complexity of adult life, especially since children at this age will be preparing for a big transition to a less supported school environment. Another option would be to set up a holiday club so people with and without autism from the local area can come along – and they might not previously know each other. But we wonder if this would be excessively stressful for children with autism?
We’d really love to know your thoughts. Specifically, should we plan for autism-specific or mixed groups? But feel free to comment on the idea more generally too if you wish. The project is in really early stages and it will have to be modest – suitable for a PhD – but we’d value your input and will try to incorporate your suggestions into our plans. I’ll update on the blog in due course.