"Minecraft" is essentially a title that lets you do almost anything and caters to different mindsets. The Creative Mode can allow the artistic to build gargantuan pieces of art from the game's blocks and the logical minded to make complex contraptions. As one Swedish mother reveled Saturday, it has helped her 9-year old son with Asperger's to learn how to read and write plus improved his social skills.
"My son has Asperger’s" Anna Stam wrote on her personal blog. "He is, like all children, wonderful and amazing with his unique strengths and weaknesses that must be overcome. But for him, like for many children (and adults) with Asperger’s, obstacles can be especially difficult and what is easy might be additionally easy."
Asperger's Syndrome is marked by a pattern of difficulties for those diagnosed such as problems with non-verbal and verbal communications, social interaction and a preoccupation with a narrow subject. While there is no delay in intellect or language development, how those diagnosed with Asperger's interact with the world around them is affected.
Ms. Stam explained how she uses visual aides to help her 9-year old son with his schedule and activities but notes that the Swedish school system has difficulties providing a learning platform for her child. That's when she began looking at games, particularly "Minecraft" to help him.
"I dare say that Minecraft is by far one of the most educating digital tools we can find on the market today," she wrote after describing how gaming helps her son with his social interaction skills and confidence. "It is actually much better than many products by educational publishers in the same field. But it takes some ingenuity, time and dedication to understand the mindset."
The mother and son play in Creative Mode with "Minecraft" where they can avoid the monsters and survival skills and focus on building and learning. In-game signs are created as an excuse to practice reading and writing as well as to classify things in the world around them. It also allows her son to practice translating English to Swedish as he plays with others.
"During the game, I can use the chat feature to write brief instructions to my son where I encourage him to do certain tasks," Stam explained. "He reads my chat and gives response by writing his own commands to me. At first this was a little frustrating for him because he wanted to be able to both read and write back quickly. But the game was so motivating in itself that he struggled with the keys more and more. Finally things went much faster. I have also started writing down common English phrases and asking him in English to find objects or do things in the surroundings.
"Since Minecraft is a fairly complex game and you cannot learn everything overnight, it also encourages you to search for information from other sources. My son has learned how to use YouTube, Google and Wikipedia as a natural way to look for information that can be applied in the game. He has also started to produce and publish his own videos on YouTube, teaching others about the game."
We've written about the "Minecraft" being used for education before, particularly with the "MinecraftEdu" program being created by a group of teachers and developers. Stam's tale is heartwarming and also brings up some excellent points in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy and the rush to point fingers at video games as a cause by politicians and the NRA. There is much more to the video game industry than violent video games and there are parents and teachers out there looking for every tool available to help children learn whether they have special needs or not.