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Guest post by Elizabeth Barnes at Autism Mom

Autcraft, the Minecraft server for children on the Autism spectrum, could become a victim of its own success.

In the almost three years since its inception, the Minecraft server has grown from a handful of players to over 6,000 registered members.

Recently Stuart Duncan, the creator and administrator of Autcraft, has realized that either Autcraft has to become able to support itself or he may have to close it down.

This could be devastating for the thousands of children on the spectrum and their families who rely on Autcraft as a safe, supportive place for them to play Minecraft, socialize, and grow.


Created by Duncan (“AutismFather” in the game) who not only has autism himself but also a child with autism, Autcraft was designed to be a safe place for children to play Minecraft online without experiencing bullying and other social unpleasantness that can happen on public Minecraft servers.

The Autcraft server is administrated by Duncan, and part-time by volunteer adults and players that include autistics, parents of autistic children and family members of someone with autism.


Autcraft is unique because it is a closed server – one has to apply to join and whitelist applications are individually reviewed and approved.

Most importantly, Autcraft is closely overseen by Duncan and Autcraft’s volunteer administrators and helpers

  • Bullying, killing, stealing, griefing, etc., is not tolerated
  • Swearing and misbehavior is not tolerated
  • There is an in-game support system so that when a players needs administrator help, they can get it almost right away
  • Players builds are protected using WorldGuard so that no one can damage them by accident or on purpose
  • All blocks placed, blocks broken, items dropped, picked up and more are tracked to see exactly what happens anywhere on the server

Duncan has always refused to charge players fees to join – he doesn’t want any child on the spectrum to be excluded from Autcraft because they don’t have the means to join.


Autcraft has been featured by numerous news outlets such as the TODAY Show in Australia, the Voice of America, BBC radio, among others, each describing how valuable the Autcraft experience has been for children on the Autism spectrum:

While Duncan started Autcraft to give kids an outlet to play a game they loved, it has quickly become a godsend for parents and therapists who credit it with their children’s incredible developmental gains. “We’ve heard from parents whose children’s therapists have been shocked with how much progress they’ve made and they’re like, ‘What are you doing different?’ and the parents say, ‘Autcraft’” ~ News.Com.Au

But the best way to understand is to hear it directly from the players and their families.

Our family has benefited immensely from Autcraft. Our son learned good online behavior, how to cooperate with others, and how to value rewards for positive behavior. Autcraft has been nothing but a great support for us.

And we are not alone in our positive Autcraft experience:

Autcraft is a must for any person with ASD! Autcraft has done things that years of therapy has not; In a few short weeks playing Autcraft, tarebear8805 has finally began asking for help, truly telling us what she needs, and, most of all, is finally recognizing that her actions do affect others … Autcraft teaches those with ASD in a way they can understand in an environment they understand, leading to them having the ability to actually generalize and effectively use what they have learned in in the real world! Autcraft has given us so many wonderful things, including the ability for our child to truly be an active part of our family! A huge thank you to those creators, admins, and others who have worked on Autcraft! ~ tarebear8805’s family

When I joined Autcraft I had very few friends, no self-confidence and had never felt like I belonged, that all changed when I joined. From the moment I joined I had so many people offering to show me around, help me build and be my friend. Autcraft gave me a place where I knew I would never be judged or bullied for who I am. Throughout my time on the server I have learnt so many things, I have made friends and I have even been able to become a Jr Helper on the Server, things I never thought possible. Autcraft isn’t just a Minecraft Server to me, It’s a place where I feel at home. ~ ChesyPleas

This video from an Autcraft player beautifully and simply sums it up:

(Click to read more news coverage of Autcraftplayer and family testimonials and video testimonials.)


The publicity Autcraft receives has increased applications and membership exponentially. But publicity doesn’t equal funding, and to manage Autcraft Duncan is effectively working a second full-time job for no pay. Eventually something has to give.

Rather than lose Autcraft, Duncan is engaging in a campaign to make Autcraft self-supporting. Here’s what you can do to help:

There are non-monetary things you can do to help, too:

  • Grants – Do you know of grants that can help support Autcraft, either Autism or non-Autism based, for individuals or businesses? Can you assist with grant application writing?
  • Business services – Do you know how to set up a corporation in Canada? Do you know someone who can? Can it be done for free for Autcraft?
  • Server services – Do you know how to maintain and update a Minecraft server? Do you know someone who can? Can it be done for free for Autcraft?
  • Watch YouTube – Autcraft has a YouTube channel and the videos are monetized with advertisements. Go watch videos, share them, and ask your friends to watch, so that Autcraft can get the ad revenue.
  • Ask others for donations – Do you know someone who is looking for a good cause to support with funding? Please ask them to consider supporting Autcraft.

And finally, the easiest thing you can do is to please share this article with as many others as you can, because every little bit helps.

Autism DOES NOT Create Mass Murderers


Autism does NOT equal mass shooter. However, the media often includes information in their stories that may lead the general public to make that assumption. Right now the tragic and senseless shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon is all over the news, as well as the subject of Autism. For example, the Today show ran a news clip on 10/6/2015 (the day of this post), with the description that “Information about the gunman in last week’s mass shooting in Oregon is emerging, indicating that his mother may have had an impact on his fascination with guns.” Then the first part of the piece proceeded to discuss not guns, but Autism. Here is a link to the clip:


The reporter Miguel Amaguer says, “Starling new revelations about the mother of Chris Harper-Mercer, a shooter who killed nine people at Umpqua Community College last week. For over a decade Laurel Harper, a registered nurse, offered online advice on various medical issues like Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum disorder that she wrote both she and her son struggled with.”

The story also mentioned that Harper wrote of dealing with a “screaming autistic head banger.” Why was that necessary? It then without explanation segued into the portion that was actually related to the story’s description: that the mother’s involvement with guns and the way she exposed her son to them may have possibly helped contribute to her son’s obsession with firearms.

So what was the link that viewers were supposed to make between the “new information” about Autism within the family, and the new information about their involvement with guns? What was Today trying to imply? Why was Autism even relevant to a story that seemed to be about the fact that the mother taught her son how to shoot guns?

It seemed to me to be to be a sensationalistic treatment of Autism, NOT relevant to the story, and disrespectful to Autistic people in general.

Stories like these are potentially damaging and can help foster the fear and stigma that is so often faced by Autistic individuals.

(Update: I did not address the gun issue in this post because this is a discussion about Autism. My point is that the news report purported to be about guns, but then also included seemingly unrelated information about Autism. I am not making any sort of commentary about guns one way or another. While it is an important discussion, that was not my focus here.)

Years ago, while the world was reeling from what transpired at Sandy Hook, best-selling Author John Elder Robison wrote an article for Psychology Today called “Asperger’s, Autism, and Mass Murder.” Speculation had arisen then, as now, that the shooter may have had Asperger’s. Robison is himself Autistic (he describes himself using both terms Asperger’s and Autistic), and warned, “Let’s stop the rush to judgment.” He also stated plainly, “Correlation does not imply causation.”  Continue reading

Autism and the Theater: THANK YOU Kelvin Moon Loh!


Kelvin Moon Loh is a performer who is currently in ‘The King and I’ at Lincoln Center. The day prior to this post there was an incident with an Autistic* person during one of his shows. His response was amazing, and he actually began a discussion about it on his personal Facebook page. Since some of you don’t have Facebook, and also because THIS IS IMPORTANT, I copied his responses and posted some screenshots here. Shared with his permission.

(*Yes, I said Autistic, not with Autism. I am not being disrespectful, I am simply reflecting the way that an increasing majority of Autistic individuals wish to be identified. If you are not familiar with the identity-first movement I encourage you to learn more.)

Here is what Kelvin’s Facebook post said (screenshot is at the top of the post):

“I am angry and sad.

Just got off stage from today’s matinee and yes, something happened. Someone brought their autistic child to the theater.

That being said- this post won’t go the way you think it will.

You think I will admonish that mother for bringing a child who yelped during a quiet moment in the show. You think I will herald an audience that yelled at this mother for bringing their child to the theater. You think that I will have sympathy for my own company whose performances were disturbed from a foreign sound coming from in front of them.


Instead, I ask you- when did we as theater people, performers and audience members become so concerned with our own experience that we lose compassion for others?  Continue reading

“Dad Sees Color”: Video of colorblind man’s joy at seeing the world in a new way

“Our Dad* has lived 24,998 days. Days filled with hope, fear, accomplishment, sadness, joy. But his days have been very different from yours and mine, because he’s color blind. He’s never seen red, pink, orange, green; the list goes on. But this Father’s Day, thanks to EnChroma, we were able to give him a gift beyond description… the gift of color.” These are the opening lines to a video, posted by a college friend (and linked to at the end of this post), that show’s his father’s reaction to wearing Color Blindness Glasses for the first time. (*not my Dad). 

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The message that I took away from this video was not that their Dad was broken and now he is fixed. That’s not the case. He was, and is, a complete person with a full life. His children simply wanted to be able to give him a new experience, as well as the ability to see things in a different way when he so wished.

Several videos about this amazing new technology have crossed my path recently, but I hadn’t watched any until now. I was more interested in seeing this particular one since it was about the father of a friend, and I’m so glad I took the time. There are many heartwarming moments in the video, including his reaction to the beauty of his flower garden. He seemed to be overcome with emotion.

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I found it incredibly moving when he cradled his daughter’s chin in his hand and gazed at the color of her eyes, saying, “I’ve never seen them before.” It was a stirringly tender exchange, and a precious moment for them to share.

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Continue reading

What it is Like to be Caught in a Rip Current


I’ve heard about the dangers of rip currents all my life, and have also been taught how to escape their powerful pull. I had always assumed that being caught in one would feel like suddenly being pulled away from the shore. It turns out that it can actually feel like nothing at all, and you often don’t realize you are in one until you are in real danger. And I never REALLY thought that it would happen to ME.

Let me rewind. Last week my family went on a mini-vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The winds were 10 to 15 miles an hour the entire time we were there, and the surf was very active. Some areas had red flags, but some had yellow. My children had been waiting all year to swim in the ocean waves, so on our first day we decided to travel to a yellow flag area and swim in front of a lifeguard to help ensure safety. Nags Head had even employed hang-gliders to help monitor the ocean from above (that has got to be the Coolest. Job. EVER.). In the Outer Banks there are a lot of areas with steep drop-offs right at the water’s edge, but we found an area that had a sandbar not too far out. It helped us enjoy the water without being in very deep. My husband and I were very cautious, kept our children at arm’s length, and tried not to get in water that was above waist high. We also didn’t stay in the water longer than an hour because we knew the dangers of becoming overtired. We had a fun and uneventful afternoon, and in hindsight I think that made me overconfident.  Continue reading

When Public Figures Mess Up

In the past few days and weeks several public figures have had damaging personal information come to light. I’m talking about several different situations, not just Ashley Madison revelations. Some of these transgressions are seemingly worse than others, and some actually hurt people. I don’t make light of that. However, the media is always thrilled to have these juicy stories. Details of people’s private lives and personal failings are then trotted out to the world for their entertainment value. Commenters proceed to swarm all over the Internet and some are positively gleeful, saying, “This is great!” or “Haha, BUSTED!” There are cries of “Hypocrite!” Many are brutal, saying all kinds of cruel, crude, profane statements, even wishing them physical harm. When these fallen public figures happen to be Christians the screaming gets worse, and all Christians are painted with the same brush. People rally to stand in self-righteous judgement, seemingly forgetting their own flaws.

I understand that some of these individuals are experiencing a backlash because of their own previous statements. They have stood in harsh judgement of others and hurt people with their words. The irony is not lost on me. I hope maybe they learn something when they reflect upon the reality that they, too, are flawed. That being said, I still couldn’t believe some of the things that have been said online to those individuals. Reading the comments on a well-known You-Tuber’s page made me physically ill and brought tears to my eyes (but to be fair so did the news of what he is alleged to have done).

What I keep thinking over and over again in my mind is this: All humans are flawed, all humans make mistakes. At times some of us even do horrible things. Ultimately ALL humans on some level are hypocrites. Each one of us has a gap between what we say we believe/the person we want to be versus the way we actually live. And we all must ultimately face the consequences for our own mistakes or hypocrisy. But do those consequences warrant being subjected to public cruelty? (Click here to see a conversation about this subject on my Facebook page.)

Why is it that we take such joy in seeing other people fail? Why does it make us feel so much better about ourselves? And how is it that the simple disconnect of a screen between us and another person allows us to intentionally inflict hurt upon a fellow human being? Is it because we think they are so deserving of the Scarlet A, or the stoning? It seems we have not evolved very far from colonial days when a rule breaker would be placed in the courtyard stocks so that others could throw rotten fruit at them, instead of simply allowing someone to face judgement in the court system.

I make lots of mistakes too. There are things in my past that I regret. I have also stood in judgment and been harsh to others. But I want to do better in my own life and in the way I treat people.

I hope I never rejoice in the downfall of another human being. I may be relieved that they are no longer continuing down the wrong path, and I might nod understandingly at the fact that they are bearing the consequences for their own poor choices. I will probably even be relieved that they are brought to justice. But I do not wish to rejoice in it, or participate in lynch-mob mentality. I won’t use it as an opportunity to further tear someone apart by kicking a man when he’s down, so to speak. There are better ways to stand up for what is right. There are better ways to achieve justice.

The media and harsh commenters and vilifiers seem to forget that there’s often collateral damage… family members, spouses, and innocent children. Your words wound them as well.

Remember folks, we’re all in this together. Let’s be kind.

(This post was edited to add the following: “I understand that some of these individuals are experiencing a backlash because of their own previous statements. They have stood in harsh judgement of others and hurt people with their words. The irony is not lost on me. I hope maybe they learn something when they reflect upon the reality that they, too, are flawed.”)

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In the Blink of an Eye: Autism and Wandering


We had a little scare yesterday. I went to pick the Ninjas up from camp and found the littlest Ninja waiting outside the building by himself. He explained matter-of-factly that he was just really ready to leave, so he decided to go look for me. It didn’t even occur to him that he was doing something wrong until he saw how upset I was.

For anyone who has ever questioned why I am so hyper-vigilant with my son, this is why. Because incidents like this can happen far too easily.

I immediately brought him inside to the director of the camp and the three of us had a talk. The director was horrified, apologetic, embarrassed, and very concerned. They had let their guard down for just a second, and it happened in the blink of an eye.

It usually does. Children with Autism can be prone to wandering behavior, and that can put them at risk. Caregivers must put strict measures into place to help ensure a secure environment. Turn your back for just a moment and you could have a dangerous situation on your hands. We want to keep these precious children safe!

In the case of my young Ninja he can be impulsive, distractable, and not have a clear grasp of danger. He is also creative and wonderfully inquisitive and notices things the rest of us do not. Unfortunately that can mean that if he is busy noticing something interesting he does NOT notice if he wanders off or gets left behind. It has happened to me, and it was frightening.

I explained this about the Ninja when we first came to camp, and stated that a watchful eye was needed during transitions. I know from experience that dangerous situations can happen to even the most vigilant and nurturing of caregivers. People often assume that the Ninja functions on a certain level because he is able to be mainstreamed, and can forget that he still requires a certain level of care. He was once accidentally locked outside his school because he was behind a climbing wall and didn’t hear his teacher call the class inside at the end of recess. When he realized what happened he was left pounding on the door, crying and alone. Within a few minutes another teacher let him in, but it left him (and me) shaken.

While I am upset that these incidents occurred I am also grateful that my son escaped harm. I want to help prevent similar incidents from happening to ANY child. That is why I am talking about this. Not to shame or chastise anyone, but to help raise awareness.

When a parent tells you that a child in your care is prone to wandering, BELIEVE them.

I am still pleased with the camp and the leadership. They have been supportive and accepting of BOTH Ninjas. They’re also going to put more strict safety measures in place from now on. Still, when I stop and think about it I get chills. The adult watching the door looked away for just a second yesterday, and that’s all it took. My son slipped out in the blink of an eye.

It makes me want to sleep with one eye open from now on, just to be safe.


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20 Things That Parenting a Child With Special Needs Has Taught Me About Life In General


I am married, have two children, and I’m still growing. Each day provides opportunities for education about my inner self, about relationships, and about life. Many of these lessons were learned when my youngest son, who has autism, was very little. His needs during that time could certainly be described as “special.” I love and respect my son, and wanted to do whatever I could to support him and help him to thrive. That’s when I slowly began to develop some guiding principles that still I try to remember when I find myself in difficult situations… I TRY to remember. I may have learned these things, but that doesn’t mean I have mastered them. I am still a work in progress. Here is my list so far of things that parenting a child with special needs has taught me about life in general:

  1. Beauty can be found in unexpected places. This first one may sound trite, but is an essential truth I cling to. Life can present us with struggles, yet it is in the midst of darkness that we truly appreciate the light. During our journey I have learned about strength, love, perseverance, and forgiveness. I have also met some amazing people along the way.
  1. Embrace what makes life unique. The world is full of opportunities for adventure. It is also populated by a gloriously diverse people who have a lot to teach us, and deserve our respect and acceptance. Different is AWESOME, and can provide a refreshing new perspective on things. In my house we call it “Not Boring.”
  1. Parenting can be hard sometimes. Special-needs or not, it can be exhausting to have another human being be dependent on you for all their needs. That doesn’t mean that our children are a burden, because we LOVE them. However, full schedules, perpetual problem-solving, and things like constant medical concerns can make us weary.
  1. Ask for what you need. The people in our life don’t always know how best to help us. They may also assume we don’t need anything if we don’t ask, so speak up. Sometimes we require assistance to get through. It’s not selfish or weak to ask for help.
  1. There will be periods in our life where it feels like we take more than we give. This can be especially hard for caregivers to accept. Remember that our worth is not defined solely by what we do for others. There will be other times in your life when you will be in a position to help someone else who is in need. The scales are never balanced.
  1. You are stronger than you think. “I don’t know how you do it,” I have heard people say. We just do what we have to. I think we often underestimate our own abilities and don’t realize how strong we are until given an opportunity to flex our muscles. I am immensely impressed by the strength and resilience displayed by my son, and some of the obstacles that he has overcome. The power of the human spirit never ceases to amaze me, and adversity can teach us and help us to grow. But it is important to remember this next one…

Continue reading

Autism & Empathy (A LOT of it)


There is a common misconception that people who have Autism lack empathy. I beg to differ. Autistic people may have difficulty at times understanding the emotions of others around them (honestly, don’t we all?), but that does not mean that they lack empathy. They may just respond to the feelings of others in an unconventional way, and we need to work harder to understand and appreciate those reactions.

My youngest son is Autistic and cares very much about his family and friends. Hugs might be a little too tight or knock you down, but they are meant with every inch of his body. The intensity of his Big Feelings can also cause him to act out at times, and the Little Ninja has needed coaching over the years to learn how to more properly express his empathy. For example, when he was four years old we needed to do some allergy testing on his big brother. It took all the strength of both the nurse and me to hold the Big Ninja down for the blood draw, and he cried and was very upset. That was too much for my tiny vigilante to handle. When we were done my youngest rushed at the legs of the nurse and started swinging, yelling, “You leave my brother alone!” Luckily she was a good sport about it, and was impressed at the passionate way he defended his big brother. I had a talk with him later about finding less physical ways to stand up for people. This is an especially important lesson for the times that he misinterprets a situation because he can come off looking as the aggressor.

There are other times that my son feels so intensely for other people that he is overwhelmed by his emotions and doesn’t know what to do with it. Continue reading

Way To Go, Kelly Jo!


During a recent family outing to a theme park I decided to ride a terrifying roller coaster for the very first time. The park had just opened so there weren’t many people around yet, and I walked to the seats in the very back. My husband and children declined the opportunity to join me for this particular ride because they’re not fond of extreme heights ;-). A lady walked up and asked if she could ride with me. I responded that I was happy for the company.

We started chatting and she told me that her name was Kelly Jo and that this was her first summer since losing 100 pounds! She was incredibly excited to be riding this roller coaster because she was never able to fit into the seats before. As she told her wonderful story I found myself tearing up. I then asked if I could share her story with you, and she graciously agreed. She said she lost the weight simply by changing her diet and exercising. I found her story especially inspiring due to some recent personal struggles. I was also thrilled and honored that I could share such a fun and incredibly meaningful experience with her.

We totally crushed that coaster, and the picture at the top of the post is our celebratory pose afterwards. Awesome job, Kelly Jo, and I am so glad to have met you! Thank you for sharing your exciting, happy story!  I am sure you have many more adventures ahead.

My own children had a recent victory of their own at the theme park. They used to be terrified of all roller coasters and this is the first summer they have even been willing to entertain the thought. We rode a couple small ones at first, and even then it took a lot of explanation and prep work. Then one day they simply walked onto a new roller coaster and trusted me that they would be okay, without knowing any details about the coaster (other than the fact that it didn’t go upside down). And guess what? They LOVED it. They didn’t even get upset when it got really dark.


Victory is ours! This is a BIG DEAL, and it’s about more than just roller coasters. Most of you know that with spectrum disorders comes a lot of anxiety. BatDad and I try to walk a fine line between respecting the Ninjas’ sensibilities and also encouraging them to try new things. I am incredibly proud of them, and took the above picture when they were done. They conquered the coaster AND their fears. Anxiety: 0, Fun: 1

Who knew that a theme park could also provide opportunities to celebrate overcoming personal obstacles?

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