The first game the Navigator played with other players online was Minecraft on the Autcraft server, specifically designed for players on the Autism spectrum. Since Autcraft, he has branched out to other online server-based games (which we approve first) where he interacts with other players.
One of the reasons I loved that he played on the Autcraft server first is because he learned what good behavior among online players looked like.
Overseen by adult helpers and administrators who backed up the rules with conversation and appropriate consequences, he learned well the kinds of things he could do and not do, and the kinds of things he could say and not say in an online player environment.
I think that is why, when a player on one of the games he was playing online (not Autcraft) started asking him questions that made him uncomfortable, he came to me.
A player identifying as female asked him to be her boyfriend, if she could move into the house he built in the game, and if he wanted to “have kids.” She also told him her “real name” and asked him how old he was.
He handled the situation well, telling the player that he was too young, and then getting off the server. But the feeling that he was in over his head rattled him, he didn’t want to get back into the game, and he didn’t know what to do next.
I could see why he was uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable, too. The situation could have been anything from a girl who was exactly as she described herself who simply wanted to “play house” and approached it inartfully, to a kid looking to bully my son, to a creepy adult. This was a public game server, after all.
His inclination was to have me respond to questions that made him uncomfortable – for me to come to his computer and write responses to players asking him the questions.
I was reluctant to do that because I think that the time is coming soon when he will not want to come to me for problem-solving in social situations. I didn’t want to set a precedent that would soon become obsolete.
It is no longer enough for us to simply instruct him not to tell people his name, his age, where he lives, etc., when he is online. He knows not to volunteer information.
The people he is interacting with are not waiting for him to volunteer information, they are actively asking questions, and will continue to ask questions, some out of curiosity and some possibly with bad intent.
He needs more sophisticated tools than admonitions to “just don’t,” tools that he can use quickly and on his own, which can be adapted and be flexible to complex social circumstances while still keeping him safe online. Tools that reflect his growing maturity and his own voice.
We came up with writing out scripts for responding to questions that make him uncomfortable. They would be on sticky notes next to the computer screen and when someone asks him something he doesn’t want to answer or that makes him uncomfortable, he can answer with the script.
The finished scripts can be found here!
Do you use scripts to help your child answer or avoid questions that make them uncomfortable or that they shouldn’t answer?
Also published on Medium.