For a little background to this article, I am a local coordinator for the D&D Adventurers League. I help several stores run games on a weekly basis by providing support for anything they need, and I run games out of my friendly local gaming store.
Several months ago, the owner of my FLGS approached me regarding prospective new players. That isn’t something he normally does, and my reaction was most likely, “What day are they playing, and do they have characters already?” When he paused, which he doesn’t normally do, I knew he was trying to be discrete. He told me then that all three of the individuals were autistic.
Now I will be honest and say that I paused for several seconds before I said anything, because I had several misconceptions about what the word “autism” actually meant, because well, I was ignorant. I actually thought that there was only one kind of autism! Of course, it was my fault I knew nothing about it. You see, because of my ignorance, I had several misconceptions and irrational worries. Primarily I thought that inviting these three people with autism to play would negatively affect the experience of the other players. I won’t get into the severity of my unfamiliarity, but I already acknowledged my lack of intelligence on the subject matter.
So, I did what any rational person would do: I did research. I read about what autism “actually” is. I read about there being a “spectrum.” I read about Asperger’s Syndrome. Actually, I read quite a lot over several days, but more importantly I also learned a lot. If you would like to know what autism is, I suggest http://www.autism.org.uk/about-autism.aspx, as I found it to be an amazing resource. If you would like to welcome someone with autism into your gaming group, whether it is D&D or something else, I would suggest reading articles, blogs, and utilizing the tools on http://www.autismspeaks.org.
When the three players started playing, of course there were bumps in the road. However, by reading and learning more, we as a group were able to realize the issues were with us and not them. Honestly, we had to stop thinking of the group as “us and them.” We were used to just talking over each other, not being organized, not describing a situation or room well enough, not taking turns giving input, and most importantly not valuing everyone at the table equally.
Initially, the bumps in the road were describing a situation or scenario and not receiving the expected reaction or response. In reading up on tools available for communicating effectively, I realized that I was not speaking in black and white terms; I used a lot of metaphors and sarcasm, a lot.
One of the best pieces of information that I read was in an article from the Autism Speaks website. It said that “idioms, puns, nuances, inferences, metaphors, allusions, and sarcasm” are very difficult for some with autism to process. Be clear, concise, and as specific possible. If you are not getting the response you are looking for, try saying things a different way or use a visual aid.
After several weeks of play, we were working like a well-oiled machine. (Or should I say an efficient and effective roleplaying group?) I knew the new players were having fun because I gave them my email address and they emailed me all week asking questions about the game and showed sincere love for it. Let me tell you, there is no better feeling in this world than a mother in tears telling me how this game changed her son’s life. Ok, so I got a little verklempt. But to be completely honest, he taught me more about life than I ever taught him about D&D.