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My nephew (16y) is a little bit on the spectrum and sometimes has a hard time dealing with people but has a great capacity to learn.

He loves to create 'games' on a platform called scratch.

I (36y) am well practiced in ICT and I have programmed in many languages and many different environments.

In my youth I have dabbled in creating games and my nephew knows this and looks up to me in this subject. I consider this a big deal and I want to try the best way I can to give him advice so he can improve and grow upon his skillset.

He asks me a lot of questions all of the time and I try to respond in a manner he understands by comparing stuff he asks to stuff I know he knows. He is from a family with 5 other siblings but those and his parents basically just leave him alone and he considers them no help to him at all.

I have tried multiple techniques like the sandwich method (good + bad + good). Or be direct, concise just to get to the point of it without detouring. I have tried a cautious approach barely touching the subject and just make him aware of things people might like or not.

However I really have a tough time getting through to him sometimes in a way that he understands. Sometimes he just thinks he is worlds best game developer and understands the universe and all of its problems.

My question is really about what sort of approach I could use and help him along. And allow him to see a bigger picture then just what he thinks he knows.

---EDITTED to add an example---

An example to a recent mail conversation, context he wanted me to give some feedback on some game he made. It wasnt that bad but the battles he made were rather long. The UI was lacking overview and mainly I was missing some sort of indication of progress or healthbar.

So he started by asking me:

Nephew: "What did you think about my game?"

Me: It was pretty good, the game was very playable, however it would be wise to show some kind of indication that what the player is doing is the correct way. What about showing a healthbar of some kind.

Nephew:No it is not fun, I only want to make things that I consider fun.

Me (losing my temper a bit): But you cant expect players to have patience forever. When they cant see anything change or have an indication of anything changing for the better. If they stop playing the game because they lost their patience they won't have fun in your game either. You wont do it for fun but for game experience.

Nephew: Ok, i will put it in my game immidiately.

Even though I think I kinda got through with my conversation I felt kinda angry with myself at losing my temper. Do I need to be so blunt and direct everytime I am trying to convey a message? Is this normal? Is there some kind of approach I am not aware of that I should use? I felt like overly talkative (preaching?) rather then helping out.

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    Could you give an example of what you tried to convey and failed? I have hard time understanding from your question wether you gave advice about people interaction or programming. What was the response you did get?
    – BagiM
    Nov 7, 2023 at 7:22

2 Answers 2

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Most teaching is not "showing people where they are wrong" or "convincing people they are not doing it right yet". This seems to be the part you are asking about. Most teaching is "hey uncle, how do I [something]?" to which you either give him a quick answer, or help him see how to break that into 20 questions that you can answer (or work on together) one at a time.

Assuming you're doing all that fine, let me reword your question as "how can I show someone I'm teaching that there are things they need to improve?" This is a smaller part of teaching, that can be important. If you're finding it really hard you don't need to do it. You can content yourself with helping someone have fun and find joy in a skill, even if they might never get a job using that skill.

However, if due to your own "standards" that you want to hold a child to, or due to a desire to make him more employable with this skill, you absolutely cannot "let it go" when he's done something like not having a progress indicator, then you can give him this kind of feedback, but always check first. Here's why:

Unsolicited advice is always criticism. Always.

If you walk up to a stranger on the street and say "those pants are really not flattering for your body type" you are criticizing them. You may be correct, or you may not, but being correct doesn't mean it isn't criticism. If you tell your sister "maybe don't bring the cake, hardly anyone eats it" that is also criticism, of her cake, of her choice to bring it, of her not noticing nobody likes it.

Now, one could argue "hey uncle what did you think of my game?" is soliciting advice, and so advice can be given, but you need to warn people (especially young people) when you're going to do that. I'm not talking about the sandwich technique here. You could respond "would you like to hear what I liked, or what I might change?" You could respond "I liked playing it even though I think it's missing a few things." You could also try the "it would be more fun / it would be even better / it would look more professional if it also had..." phrasing. The key is to sort of announce "alert! What follows is going to say something about your work is not all it could be" before you criticize.

And then, if the response is "but I only want to do the fun part!" I would laugh and say "well, that's the difference between making a game for your own fun and making a game for other people to have fun playing. Some of the stuff they need for fun is not fun at all for you to make." This is sort of like what you said, but instead of being angry and describing others being angry and losing patience, you use empathy and connect with the times in your life where you've had to do things a certain way for the boss or the customers instead of just building stuff for fun and to see if you can.

It's not a bad outcome if your nephew makes poor games that were fun for him but are never going to be played by others or get him a job. He had fun and you two spent time together. It's not a bad outcome if he learns from your gentle and positive support that being a game author has some duties that are not so fun. It's not a bad outcome if he grows up to be a truck driver or real estate agent or bank manager and never gets paid to code. The only really bad outcomes would be souring the relationship between you two just because he's not meeting your professional standards for user experience, or souring his feelings about coding because he doesn't feel he is good enough. Stay away from those paths, and it will work out.

[Sources: I have taught hundreds of thousands (perhaps more) of people to program, including my own children, and met literally hundreds of people who hate my favourite programming language because of an early teacher, and tell me they wished they had met me decades ago. I also have nieces, nephews, and neighbour children who have come to me for career and programming advice.]

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  • I have learnt something from this. Thank you for your answer. Jan 15 at 12:56
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Note: After posting this, I just realised that question is also tagged with autism-spectrum and I missed that. As such, my answer perhaps may not be helpful for the specific case.


  1. He is a teenager.

    I don't know about you, but I was an insufferable arrogant twat, like your nephew when I was a teenager too - I thought I knew everything because I was a bookworm. It's phase he'll grow out of eventually.

  2. Not everything has to be a teachable moment. Sometimes it is just nice to be heard and appreciated.

    In a family vacation, I once remember our elders gave us a painting kit to keep us busy for a few hours. When we finished and showed our paintings to our grandma and asked her whose was best, she said all of us did a good job. The eldest among us objected and said his was the best. My grandma diplomatically replied, "Ofcourse, for a 10 year old, your painting is awesome! And look, don't you agree for an 8 year old, his painting is great too for his age too? And look at what our 5 year old sweetheart has painted - so lovely!" Ofcourse we all left very pleased, believing we were all exceptional painters! (I am sure you've realised this - there's really no age bar for receiving compliments and feeling appreciated. We adults love them too.).

  3. Explore the 'bigger' picture with the Socratic method

    Since your nephew can be an arrogant twat sometimes, one good way to expand their narrow view, and / or make them see the bigger picture is through the Socratic technique - this is a conversational method of examining ideas logically. By asking the right questions, in a non-confrontational manner, you challenge the person to think for themselves, and guide them to a different perspective. By not directly offering a solution or answer, and engaging them in a dialogue to think for themselves, they learn the valuable skill of introspection and feel good when they figure out something by themselves.

    'Socratic Questioning in Psychology: Examples and Techniques' offers an easy intro to this:

    Socratic questioning follows the steps below.

    1. Understand the belief.
      Ask the person to state clearly their belief/argument.

    2. Sum up the person’s argument.
      Play back what they said to clarify your understanding of their position.

    3. Ask for evidence.
      Ask open questions to elicit further knowledge and uncover assumptions, misconceptions, inconsistencies, and contradictions.

      • Upon what assumption is this belief based?
      • What evidence is there to support this argument?
    4. Challenge their assumptions. If contradictions, inconsistencies, exceptions, or counterexamples are identified, then ask the person to either disregard the belief or restate it more precisely.

    5. Repeat the process again, if required.
      Until both parties accept the restated belief, the process is repeated.

Understanding may not be immediate - sometimes you have to give them space for a few days, or even weeks, to think and stew in their own thoughts about what you discussed. The idea is to sometimes gently challenge him to think outside his comfort zone. Don't forget that he is not yet an adult. So let him grow up by himself.

Here's another guide on 'Socratic Questioning' that explains what kind of questions to ask. Note also the warning in the first guide:

Coaches should avoid becoming ‘stuck’ entirely in the Socratic mode. Complete reliance on Socratic questions will lead to robotic and predictable sessions.

In others words, it can become boring if all conversations are Socratic. Once in a while your nephew might just appreciate a straight answer from you, rather than another philosophical discussion. ;)

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  • Even though you missed the tag. I still this answer can give me something to try for the next time. Thank you for your answer. Jan 15 at 12:56

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