Camp Choices for Young People on the Spectrum

Summer is always a time when parents scramble to find the right blend of activities for their kids: fun, safe, a good place to connect with friends – and if it’s possible to build skills or add in some productivity, that’s a bonus!

Parents of kids on the spectrum have an added layer of concern because their children can be more vulnerable to comments from others and may sometimes have a difficult time interacting with others or making new friends.

Connected Camps strives to offer a positive play environment for ALL kids. Rather than a dedicated server or camp for specific needs, we offer a mixed ability community that is friendly to kids on the spectrum. As our founder Mimi Ito said, “We hope to be both a stepping stone to other mixed ability online contexts, as well as a way for kids with autism to pursue tech and creative interests suited to their social and communication needs.”

Minecraft is a cornerstone of the offerings at Connected Camps, and it is highly popular with kids on the spectrum. According to Autism Parenting Magazine, “Many kids on the spectrum adore Minecraft, and while there are many opinions as to what the attraction is, I’d argue the joy of building complex structures in a world of simple rules is inherently pleasurable.”

The writer continues, “One truly amazing feature of Minecraft is its multiplayer mode that can be used by people all over the world to play the game together by connecting to one of many ‘Servers’ that are available on the public internet. Players can pop in and out of the game, meet with their friends, and work on their latest construction together. While this adds a lot of fun to the game, care is required and this is especially true when dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) kids.”

We offer two free servers Minecraft for different age groups: Kid Club for ages 8-13, and Connected Craft for ages 13-17. We have several measures in place to make sure these Minecraft servers are safe and fun, so the kids can focus on creating and parents have peace of mind:

  •       Servers are white-listed: anyone joining has to register with us, so we know who is on the server at all times.
  •       Everyone who joins our server agrees to abide by our Code of Conduct, and if a member violates it, we work closely with parents and our counselors to quickly resolve any issue.
  •       The design of Connected Camps is guided by the Connected Learning Alliance, dedicated to mobilizing new technology in the service of equity, access and opportunity for all young people.
  •       Our counselors are not only experts in Minecraft but also are fantastic at working with kids and teens. We run a background check as part of the hiring process and all of our counselors are trained to keep community play fun and friendly.

In addition, our expert counselors are always online during Club hours. They maintain a positive environment for every child participating, leaving them free to create and enjoy without concern.

As the Parent Influence blog recently said, “Connected Camps is a great way to give your children the idea of summer camps without worrying about safety or them leaving home. It’s especially nice for kids that experience separation anxiety or difficulty in new situations.” 

Connected Camps counselor Evan shared about a student whose parent notified us about them being on the spectrum. The student participated in two programs: Architecture Course and Builder’s Club. Because the parent raised awareness, Evan made a point to offer more structure in explicit instructions and more rigid scheduling of the program, and the student performed at the same level as their peers. 

Evan said, “When the parents described how their child appreciates structure and a clear definition of end-goals, I tried my best to honor this feedback by ensuring the class would conduct sharing-time at the same time each class, along with using the same procedures and commands (e.g. “/warp plots” to get to a new plot) consistently.”

Evan was able to adapt to the needs of one camper while maintaining a fun and productive environment for all participants. When training our team, we focus on acknowledging the various learning styles both with ourselves and with our students.

This isn’t exclusive to learners on the spectrum, specifically; all of our training encourages counselors to be open and empathetic to our learners’ unique circumstances. 

All counselors receive the same in-depth training, whether they work on the Minecraft servers and camps or in the esports programs. Our esports programs are also very popular, and we work just as hard to make those friendly for everyone.

Connected Camps offers esports programs with a variety of titles, and youth play, practice, and engage in organized events under the mentorship of an experienced coach. We offer week-long camps where gamers practice drills and evolve their gameplay, and clubs where members meet weekly to play, practice, and engage in an inclusive environment under the guidance of an esports coach.

In a blog post, the Asperger-Autism Network (AANE) discussed how video games benefit students with special needs. Some games “allow individuals on the spectrum to learn new social skills because it eliminates the need for intimidating face-to-face interactions. Video gamers can learn to communicate with others in a less threatening way.”

Bianca is one of our counselors, and she shared about a student who was on the spectrum and participated in one of the esports clubs and had many positive social interactions. She noted that the student was comfortable and was very happy to talk to her and gave detailed responses to her questions. She also said, “Something I found quite interesting is that out of all my students, he was the only one that asked if he could rotate in joining other ‘game group lobbies’ in our session so he could play against different students.”

The AANE also said, “Many teachers and therapists who work with individuals with autism focus on trying to get them to become more flexible and accepting of changes in their environment, and one way to do so is with video games. Gamers will quickly learn they must adapt their strategy with each new level of the game.” With the guidance of our caring coaches, all students will learn new tactics and improve their game skills and abilities, whether they’re playing Rocket League, Smash Ultimate, or League of Legends. 

Families who have kids on the spectrum will find dozens of options of camps and clubs from Connected Camps for their children. They’ll be safe, have fun, and develop new skills. What more could you ask of a summer camp?!

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