STAUNTON – A local organization will host the area’s first gaming class geared toward kids with autism this spring.

Greater Good Gaming organizers hope the Minecraft course, which is part of Staunton Parks & Recreation’s spring programming, will give youth ages 11 to 14 a chance to play a game they love while socializing with peers. The group will have a free meet-and-greet for potential participants on Feb. 5, and registration for the class is open until Feb. 13.

G3 has been around for about three years, and this will be the second semester the group has offered courses through Staunton Parks & Recreation. But this is the first time the organization will host a class specifically designed for youth with special needs.

Founder Tony Robertson said he realized there aren’t many activities for kids on the spectrum in the area after talking with News Leader reporter Monique Calello, whose daughter has autism and enjoys his monthly gaming group at Staunton Public Library. 

She explained that there aren’t any activities in this area geared toward kids on the autism spectrum for her daughter to participate in.

“That kind of got me thinking that there’s this community out there that needs programming for their kids,” Robertson said.

Video games are “equal opportunity entertainment” since the games are accessible for players with a range of mental and physical abilities, he said. G3 organizers want participants to be creative and use their imaginations, so they decided to focus the class on Minecraft, a game where players create things from different kinds of blocks.

Robertson, who has a background in education, worked with his colleagues – including a specialist who has experience with kids on the autism spectrum – to create the lesson plans. While each player will have their own project to work on for most of the course, they’ll work together on a group build during the final part of the class. 

“Sometimes for kids on the spectrum, it can be hard to throw them into these big, social, collaborative efforts … so we want to ease them into that,” he said. This strategy aims to teach kids that, “yes, it can be frustrating to do things with other people sometimes … but if you plan it out carefully and organize it well, it can be quite efficient.”

Plus, G3 encourages kids to take active breaks from gaming every half hour or so. During the course, they’ll play “camp-like” group games together to continue the focus on teamwork and structured socialization, Robertson said.

While the course is open to all kids, Robertson said he hopes youth on the autism spectrum will get priority, since it’s designed specially for them. The meet-and-greet will take place at the Nelson Street Center from 6:30-8 p.m. on Feb. 5 so kids can familiarize themselves with the course and its leaders before they sign up.

More information about cost, dates and registration is available online, in the Staunton Parks & Recreation spring catalog.

All G3’s courses encourage kids to use skills like problem solving, creativity and determination while they participate in an activity they already enjoy, he said. The group aims to reduce the stigma that surrounds gaming and to encourage gamers to use their passion for video games to better themselves and the community.

“Embracing this technology that’s here, that’s not going anywhere and making the best of it – that’s sort of what Greater Good Gaming is all about,” Robertson said.

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