Unlocking Social Growth and Inclusivity: The Minds at Play Journey

In a world where connections matter more than ever, finding a space where individuals can foster social growth, build lasting friendships, and develop essential life skills is priceless.

Minds at Play is a shining beacon, addressing this need head-on. With its innovative virtual programs, Minds at Play has transformed the lives of neurodiverse children, youth, and adults, providing them with an inclusive and supportive environment to thrive and succeed.

This resource explores all the amazing ways that Minds at Play is:

A Foundation of Inclusivity

Minds at Play’s roots can be traced back to a powerful vision of inclusivity and empowerment. Founded by Dwayne Fernandes, Dan Papallo, and Jeff Ozog, the program emerged as a response to a significant gap in fostering communication and social skills among neurodiverse individuals.

As a double amputee tower climbing disability advocate and Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast, Dwayne Fernandes recognised the transformative potential of immersive gaming experiences. His godchild’s journey with autism further fueled his commitment to creating a safe haven for all individuals to benefit from the power of Dungeons and Dragons.

A Journey of Transformation

What started as a humble initiative with one table and four players in 2019 has rapidly evolved into a transformative force. Today, Minds at Play boasts over 470 players across 106 tables, a testament to its unwavering dedication to creating meaningful connections and fostering growth.

The program’s unique value proposition lies in its ability to create a safe, inclusive, and supportive virtual environment.

The Minds at Play Experience

The cornerstone of Minds at Play’s success is its virtual gaming social programsstructured social groups that offer a weekly dose of interactive adventures facilitated by experienced Games Masters.

These programs are meticulously designed to cater to the diverse needs of neurodiverse participants. Backed by studies demonstrating the myriad benefits of playing Dungeons and Dragons, the program empowers individuals to form lasting friendships, boost self-confidence, enhance communication skills, and find a secure platform to express emotions and navigate challenges.

But Minds at Play goes beyond gaming. It focuses on holistic development, nurturing

  • Building Program/Game Skills – by engaging in the program, we build the players skills and confidence in the program’s steps, languages, routines and “behavioural norms” to use these skills in the community.
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication – using language and text skills to express ideas and feelings
  • Build Confidence – supporting players decision making, encouraging positive collaborative behaviours and actions, developed through peer activities
  • Social Growth – helping the player make friends, greet others, and develop sharing and turn-taking skills
  • Collaboration – by working as a group to achieve a common goal
  • Problem Solving – sharing, taking turns in different roles and working together
  • Conflict resolution – working through differences for a shared aim
  • Emotional Development – learning to understand and talk about emotions (their own and other people’s) and problem-solving skills.
  • Communication and literacy skills – expanding vocabulary around social and emotional development, increasing literacy skills and language development through peer activities
What are the outcomes?

The outcomes of these programs are not just anecdotal; they are backed by real data and reported successes. To date, Minds at Play has never cancelled a session, demonstrating their commitment to unwavering service consistency.

Minds at Play’s service has had a profoundly positive impact on the health and wellbeing of its participants, as evidenced by the following notable benefits:

  • Identity Exploration and Increased Self-Confidence: Participants have had a unique opportunity to explore their identities and build self-confidence through immersive role-playing games. Data gathered from Games Masters’ session forms indicates a significant increase in self-confidence among many participants since joining the program. This positive transformation has also been acknowledged by families and carers in real-life settings.
  • Safe and Moderated Gaming Environment: Families and carers have expressed their peace of mind knowing that Minds at Play provides a supervised and secure gaming space for children. Feedback received from carers attests to their increased comfort and reassurance, as they are confident that their children are engaging in a safe and well-monitored environment.
  • Improved Social Skills and Comfort in Social Situations: The program has proven to be instrumental in enhancing players’ social skills and ability to engage with others. Term surveys completed by players and their carers/families demonstrate a noticeable improvement in players’ social interaction abilities and their increased comfort in various social situations. This impact is particularly significant for players who experience social anxiety or reside in remote areas with limited access to social groups.
  • Inclusive Access for Health-Compromised Individuals: Minds at Play’s service has become an invaluable resource for players with compromised immunity or health concerns that hinder their access to traditional social groups. By participating in the program from the comfort of their own homes, these individuals can overcome barriers and enjoy social engagement that might otherwise be challenging or overwhelming due to sensory sensitivities or limited physical mobility.
  • Trusting and Supportive Community: The program has fostered a safe, non-judgmental, and trusting space where participants can connect with like-minded individuals. This aspect of Minds at Play has significantly contributed to the comfort and confidence of many players, as reported through conversations with players and their support networks, session reports, and feedback surveys. The program’s high retention rate of over 70% underscores the genuine desire of players to maintain the social connections they have formed.

Recently our Dungeons and Dragons program was reviewed by the NDIA Internal Reviews & Complaints Branch and stated “funding has been approved in line with our guidelines “reasonable and necessary supports” .

But it’s not only the players who favour Minds at Play. It is also a desirable work destination. Within Minds at Play, we demonstrate inclusive workplace practices and innovative disability recruitment and retention strategies. We prioritise creating an accessible and accommodating environment by streamlining our application process. Applicants fill out one form, accompanied by their resume and cover letter, where we inquire about their gaming skills.

Client Success Stories: Inspiring Transformations

The true measure of an initiative’s success lies in the stories of those it touches. Minds at Play is no exception, and the program’s impact is profoundly reflected in the experiences of its participants.

Take Jesse Cross, for instance. Jesse, a creative teenager with autism, felt left out when his brothers enjoyed virtual gaming through Minds at Play (MAP). Not interested in Minecraft or Dungeons and Dragons, Jesse pitched an idea to teach Scratch, a coding space he loved. Impressed by his initiative, MAP co-founder Dwayne Fernandes approved the plan. Now, Jesse teaches Scratch during school holidays, and is empowered by earning his own paychecks and gaining SACE credits. NDIS support and Minds at Play provided him this incredible opportunity, boosting his confidence and creating a sense of belonging for the entire family.

Jesse’s story mirrors that of many others who found solace, companionship, and growth through Minds at Play. The safe space provided by the program has enabled neurodiverse individuals to embark on journeys of self-discovery, fortifying their self-esteem, communication skills, and emotional resilience.

Find out more about Jesse’s story here

Driving Systemic Change

The success of Minds at Play is not confined to individual stories alone; it extends to its commitment to inclusivity, innovation, and collaboration. Collaborating with the University of South Australia on a white paper research exploring the use of Tabletop Role-Playing Games to promote social growth, Minds at Play showcases its dedication to being a wellspring of insights for the greater community.

In the next five years, Minds at Play envisions reaching even greater heights. With an unwavering focus on expanding its programs, fostering more partnerships, and enriching the lives of neurodiverse individuals, the program aims to scale its impact, ensuring no one is left behind.
In conclusion Minds at Play is more than a program; it’s a lifeline, a catalyst for positive change. By creating an ecosystem of growth, inclusivity, and camaraderie, Minds at Play has not only addressed a critical need but has also paved the way for systemic transformation. Its commitment to nurturing social skills, building confidence, and enhancing communication is a beacon of hope in a world that craves genuine connections.

As the program continues to weave its magic, one thing is clear: Minds at Play is not just fostering better lives; it’s fostering a better world, one adventure at a time.

CLICK HERE to find out more about the amazing programs on offer from Minds at Play

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