Autism and LARP


#1

Hi All,

A slightly unusual topic for you all and once which apparently has not been discussed before assuming the search bar is correct, if it has please do link me!

I read some time ago an article about how LARP can really help people with Autism as it allows them to escape their reality and develop a character which allows them to express themselves in a way which in normal society would not go down as well. I have a nephew who suffers from Autism and Asperger’s and am considering bringing him along to an event next year. However I’d like to know if anyone has brought a family member or friend or they themselves have gone to an event how they found it?

My nephew is 12 and really struggles and I’m trying to find ways for him to overcome this and as I say it was just by chance some months ago I came across this article (although I didn’t thoroughly read it as I didn’t have much interest myself at the time).

So if anyone has any experiences they would like to share, if you would prefer to talk in private then please do as I know its not always something people want to discuss openly.

With regards,

Julian


#2

Firstly, I am not on the Autistic or Asperger’s spectrum.

I know a fair few LARPers who are somewhere on the Autism and/or Asperger spectrum and many of them play fantastic characters and contribute massively towards the community and some of them have found LARP to be a near perfect hobby for them.

I personally am a little wary however about “LARP as therapy” as it is of course entirely intended as a game, the players are playing for their enjoyment, not to help others, although most players find other people enjoying what they bring to the game to be a key part of their own enjoyment.
And most people choose to play characters who are less pleasant people than themselves and whilst they are very unlikely to direct it at a twelve year old, it may happen around them.

From everything I’ve heard the Academy (and the plot written for it) is a fantastic place and hopefully your nephew would get a lot out of it.
Although the rest of the game most certainly is adult, not child focused.

But I will see if I can find encourage some people with far more relevant experiences to post.


#3

Our son is 9 and autistic. He is been doing lrp most of his life. He enjoys getting away to the games and look forward to them. I have also brought my older son who is not autitic to lrp most of his life as well.

Bringing any children to a game will change your game. I found I need to be more available for my autistic son but that is the same as real life. I would say there are a large proportion of children on the spectrum somewhere at the game at the academy staff are great.

But it is. It an automatic they will like it kids are different and he may find it is not his thing. Or he may find empire is not his game but another one is.


#4

@Illithidbix Thank you for your reply, while I understand what you mean about treating this as a therapy, that is certainly not my intent and I don’t believe the author of the article intended for it to be used that way, if my memory serves me the article was written by a child psychologist specalising in Autism. Rather the intention and concept is to provide the child with an environment in which they feel safe and comfortable in. For those who encounter people who suffer with Autism know they can find the real world a complicated and daunting place, where we expect them to adapt and change their behaviors in order to suit the ideal desires of the rest of us. Of course we all know the reality here is far from that, particular in the case of a child it can be very difficult for them to even understand how something they do may be perceived as wrong.

LARP provides them an opportunity to build and play a character which feels natural to them, in the case of my nephew he finds new people strange and does something I’ve never seen other people do! He will ignore anyone he does not know and watch them, he will mimic their actions if they itch their nose he will too, if they get up, he gets up and so on. He will do this for some time and then when he feels comfortable he will then go up and just sit himself down next to them, no asking, no regard for what this person might be doing or who they maybe sitting with, he will just go and sit there. For most people this is not acceptable nor comfortable and while we hope he will learn to adjust his behavior towards new people its certainly not going to happen overnight.

I believe it’s these characteristics in which the author was trying to engage with (will try and find the article again.) While you and I have to put on a performance for a character with the above traits it would require some concentration and effort (although I suspect in this environment could be fun) for someone who naturally does this, they are able to fully immerse themselves in the character and as you mentioned are able to play fantastic characters.

As for the Academy I need to look into this further to better understand it. It would be great to hear of other peoples experiences.

@Tomj I understand your point here, am I convinced Empire is right for him? In all honesty I’m not, I think the game could be to complicated for him with all the politics etc. I do however believe he would thrive in the environment and what child does not want to get dressed up and kill some orcs? However it is for these reasons that Empire appeals to me. I certainly would not take him along on my first trip as I need to gauge the suitability. I do however feel that he would thoroughly enjoy the experience of playing a character from the minute he wakes to the minute he sleeps, also Empire has the added advantage of not being to far down the road from us that should it not go as planned his parents could easily pick him up.

Thank you both for your replies they are greatly appreciated.

With regards,

Julian


#5

I came into LARP as an autistic adult rather than a child, but here’s my take on it.

Escapism is definitely part of the joy of LARP, but I’d say its real value with regards my autism is a non-escapist one.

LARP has without a doubt improved my people skills. I think this is partly because it provides an opportunity to practice social situations (often ones involving conflict or ambiguity), but with the safety net of it all being IC. In the real world if I think I’ve upset someone then asking them about it could either make it worse or create a problem where there wasn’t one, whereas in LARP asking someone OC if you’ve crossed a line is actively encouraged.

I call this a non-escapist benefit, because the social skills I hone in LARP relate directly to my real world social situations. I might not be discussing orcs and dragons, but I’m using the same arguing/persuasive/people-reading skills.

Your nephew might also find this benefit, or he might not. Autism being a spectrum, we can have very different reactions to the same experiences. I’d also caution against thinking of LARP as a therapeutic tool, but if his particular symptoms won’t clash with the experience of LARP (e.g. if he can cope with the crowds at Empire) and (like TomJ said) you are prepared to alter your game to accommodate having a child with you, I see no reason why he shouldn’t try it and see if he likes it.


#6

I found LARP has been a great way to essentially have ‘training wheels’ for RL social skills - people expect you to be acting oddly because you’re in character, and if you really screw it up you can just drop that character and play a new one, so you can try things out in much more safety than in RL.

Obviously you have to be sure you’re not pushing other people’s OC boundaries, but LARPs tend to have a much simpler, easier to explain set of ‘don’t do that’ rules than real life (and be places where people are more likely to e.g. ask permission before touching).

I’m not sure how I’d have got on with a big fest like Empire early on though - although I imagine it’d be easier with a parent because there would be an island of safety to return to - it can be quite overwhelming out on the field even now I am an adult with pretty well developed coping mechanisms. I started with much smaller, much more structured LARPs before heading to the big fests.


#7

@RuBecSo @ChessyPig thank you both for your responses. I really appreciate you taking the time to tell me of your experinces. I understand what you mean about big crowds, but I’ve never seen him struggle to much there, it’s more problems with smaller groups of strangers who finds difficult. My sister has taken him to Wembley and didn’t have any issues aside from what we would normally expect.


#8

It’s not so much the crowd aspects as the way that fests constantly require new interactions with strangers - navigation of crowds isn’t a problem when they can be considered as objects / obstacles but constant shopping interactions from itinerant traders etc are more difficult to navigate.


#9

Hey all,

So I have aspergers syndrome diagnosed aged 6-7. I also have pragmantic semantic communication disorder. So I have been larping since July 2008. In that time I played many awesome characters who helped me develop new skills with people, some empathy and new way to see the world. LARP is a real game changer it will boost confidence in time. Yes I still have problems with crowds like the one on Saturday I was in the middle of. That was hard work with the sun.

If I may suggest probably the best and easiest of nations to get into who are extremely understanding of mental health and Learning difficulties, we are in the forest and very welcoming and happy to give time to people.

The rules are many but I find the best way to do things is use the wiki and only take the information you need to your game. Taking everything else in is just mental. The woods also have many areas one can chill out away from people in.

If you want to chat about things and how I can help or offer advice please feel free to contact me here or on facebook as Michael barley. Just look on navarr page or ask round. Quite a few know me and I am always happy to help.


#10

@ChessyPig, yes I understand now, this was not something I had considered and is something I need to look into and also I feel that attending myself will allow me to better understand this and gauge this.

@michael_barley thank you for sharing your experiences it is very helpful. I’m going to be sitting down my sister to discuss this in more detail, I’ve only sort of briefly mentioned what I’m thinking. I’m sure after this I will have more questions which I would welcome help with answering. So many thanks for the invitation and is something I will take up but may take a few weeks.

But just a question on your point about nations understanding mental health, I just want to better understand this. If you prefer to PM instead of discussing this here for the world to read I wouldn’t mind. It is paramount that I set up a safe environment and put an action plan in place first and so I’d be really glad to hear how you have found things at Empire.


#11

Some advice from one of my autistic friends: it might be better to pick one of the nations where IC prejudice isn’t a major theme. My friend sometimes has to make a conscious effort to remind himself that IC prejudice (we’re talking things like the anti-briar sentiment in Navarr and the Marches, or Highguard’s general-purpose human-superiority angle) is entirely fictional, and that’s as an adult and an experienced larper; if your nephew has a similar mindset it may be better to play something where that won’t come up so much.

If you’re sure your nephew will have a strong IC/OOC divide right from the word go this isn’t a problem at all, but my friend thought it was worth flagging up.

(This is, to be clear, not a criticism of those nations - IC prejudice for IC reasons like lineage is a supported part of the game and one I’ve had a lot of fun with; it’s just something that some people find more difficult to roleplay with than others, and it’s worth considering that when choosing which nation to play.)


#12

There are many people in Navarr who have their own issues but many of us understand learning difficulties and if you want to get away from people in the woods there are plenty of places to sit out the way of people. I have my own plans to allow me to get out of dodge if need be.

I just suggest not playing Briar in navarr as they get very suspicious of them. If you want to pm me feel free and I will do my best to answer any questions.


#13

It’s something I need to consider and I think I will be able to better gauge this in person at an event certainly for myself I was thinking Highguard.


#14

@Tomj is a parent in Highguard so he should be able to give you an idea of what that’s like. Also if you’ve got any queries about the academy I’d drop an email (new.player@profounddecisions.co.uk) to the player support team and Clare should be able to help you. For reference the current head of the academy IC used to be the Exarch of a Highguard Chapter and OOC is a primary school teacher.


#15

Another autistic player here :slight_smile:

The biggest potential problem I can see is daily routine changes because a lot of stuff isn’t possible in a field. Do you know how well he would cope with camping normally?

The other big question is has he personally expressed an interest in LARP? If he isn’t interested he is probably going to have a far more rubbish time than an NT child with no interest in LARP, if he is interested he should have a great time and may be able to overcome any major routine changes for it.


#16

Camping is not an issue, we all go camping twice a year as a whole family 5 adults and 4 children. As for expressing an interest in LARP, answer is no! However he does enjoy role play and enjoys D&D and plays in a regular club near him. He has also started fencing as well. So I’m kinda of working of the assumption that as he enjoys all these things individually then hopefully combining them will give him a great experience. That’s the theory anyway!!!


#17

Hi @Mark_Wilkin sorry you post didn’t display before, thanks for your reply that’s really helpful information there. You are a man of much knowledge and wisdom.


#18

That sounds very promising then. When there is a strong correlation between NT people who like X also liking Y this tends to be a lot weaker for autistic people (as a small element of X that few NT people care about might be the important bit) but the combination of D&D and fencing suggests LARP would probably go down well.


#19

So I’ve mentioned this to my sister and she is a little unsure on the suitability and hopefully I will make E4 so will be able to make a better judgment. However one of the biggest concerns would be him running off with such a large number of people in attendance, I understand Empire is not geared towards children but what systems are in place for dealing with Lost Children? Has any one had any first hand experince of this? Or would this be better directed to PD?


#20

In my experience people will bring lost children to either the Hub (where a number of civil servant NPCs have a radio), The GOD tent, the academy (where there are crew with radios) a ref with a radio or one of the nation Egregores who also have radios. Once a radio call has gone out, someone from the Player Support team will come and get them while others are sent out looking for the responsible adult registered on the system for them.

@Clare, the head of the player support team, should be able to confirm this when she gets back off holiday for you.

For a quicker answer email PD and they’ll be able to tell you exactly what provisions are in place.