Book review: Teaching Social Skills to Children with Autism using Minecraft ®

Teaching Social Skills to Children with Autism using Minecraft®. By Raelene Dundon. Reviewed by Dr Leila Mackie.

Teaching social skills to children with autism using Minecraft

Date published: 2019

Paperback price: £24.00

Link to book on Jessica Kingsley website

Reviewer: Dr Leila Mackie, Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist

Reviewer expertise: Over 20 years clinical experience working with children of a range of ages

What is the book about and who is it aimed at?

This book is aimed at Speech and Language Therapists, Specialist Teachers, or other professionals who would potentially run groups focusing on social communication skills. The group sessions are designed for children aged between 5 and 12 years old who are attending mainstream school and have a diagnosis of autism or social communication difficulties of some kind.

A brief description of the book.

The book contains everything you would need in order to set up and run these groups. There is an introduction that gives background information about how they came about. Part 1 then provides an explanation of what social skills are, how they are affected in a child with autism and how group programmes can support them to develop skills in this area. The author also explains what Minecraft® is and why this was chosen to help teach social skills. Part 2 provides all the information required to set up and run the groups, including useful information about the practicalities, down to the seating arrangements, and attractive resources that are ready to copy and use. With a total of 30 sessions, each lasting 90 minutes and each session fully explained with all the resources required, the books gives a lot for your money! Part 3 provides some extra resources and links to useful websites.

Is the content in line with best practice or research evidence?

The author provides some references to systematic reviews of social communication skills groups in children with autism and reports that group work is considered evidence-based practice for teaching social skills. The author acknowledges the difficulty identifying the most effective format and structure of group programmes.

Evidence for the effectiveness of the Minecraft® social skills groups is limited to the author’s report that they are the most popular groups that they run, as well as reporting “wonderful feedback” from schools regarding changes that they have seen in their participant's behaviour.

However, the group plans indicate a sound knowledge of the psychological theory underpinning the rationale for the groups and it is clear that the author has a good understanding of the areas that are difficult for these children in real life settings.

Who would this book be helpful for its target reader?

Due to the current restrictions caused by Covid 19, I have not been able to try this out with a group of children with autism as would have been ideal,  however I have trialled some of the content with my own two children who are big Minecraft® fans. As soon as they saw the book they were very motivated to try it out, such is the appeal of Minecraft® to many children in the 5 to 12 year old age range.

I would agree with the author that Minecraft® is an excellent vehicle to target social communication due to its high motivation factor.  Also, as she points out, its appeal is high amongst children with autism but also transfers well to more neuro-typical children. Thus this topic does not make them “different” to their same aged peers and in fact helps by acting as a common ground in the classroom and playground.

For a professional looking to set up a group, the very practical hands-on experience of the author shines through, with lots of useful tips about how to keep participants engaged and a good awareness of where difficulties may arise and how these can be prevented. The books is very nicely laid out and very easy to negotiate and gives you the sense that it is very well “tried and tested”. It also looks fun and makes me want to try it out - I am sure that kids taking part would enjoy it and groups would be fun to run.

I do have some concerns that some topics covered in a session are far more complex than is suggested in the book and would require a lot more in-depth work around the underlying knowledge and skills required in that area. There is no “quick fix” to social communication difficulties.

I like how the author has considered ways to transfer the skills learned to other settings with a home task to try at home at the end of each session. This could be developed further, I think, as generalisation of skills to settings outwith the group is always the particularly tricky bit to this type of intervention.

What is your final, overall opinion on the book?

I think that overall this is a great, practical resource book providing all you need to set up and start running the groups. They will be fun to run for the adults involved and children alike. Using Minecraft® as a vehicle to motivate the children attending the groups is a fantastic idea, due to its high appeal within this age group.

I am aware of the limited evidence base in this area generally, but it is a shame that there is so little evidence of effectiveness reported in this book. This would be an area for some really worthwhile research. I also think that some hugely complex skills are skimmed over in a session where in reality progress in some areas will take a long time, with more in-depth teaching and support. The programme could be useful as part of this input, but perhaps less so as a stand-alone intervention.