Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a series of four about Social Media for teens and young autistic adults as well as advice to parents. Paddy-Joe, our resident young autistic adult reporter explores the pros and cons of using Social Media as well as things for parents to consider – both in sharing stories about their children with autism (the first in the series last Monday) and how to monitor and assist a child in the use of Social Media. While the articles have a focus on autism, the advice is universal. Look for the next in the series next Monday.
Over the last few years there has been a steady increase in the number of people, especially young people, using social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Although these are some of the most popular and well known sites, there are hundreds of others, and many young people spend a few hours a day on these sites. There are a lot of both positive and negative implications for anybody using these sites, but especially for people with autism, due to the fact that socialising can be so difficult for them in the first place. In this article I will look at some of the positive elements of social networking.
The main point is communication.
The internet gives a tool to put your thoughts and feelings out there for potentially millions of people to read. You can contact your friends any time of the day or night, and find thousands of people with similar interests to you. And when it comes to communicating, lots of autistic people find it much easier to simply be able to type what they want to say in to a computer rather than actually having to talk face to face. It is well-known that some autistic people can write much more freely than they can speak, and often a lot of their ideas and feelings are not known about until they`ve been written down. It is also much easier to get out of an awkward situation on the internet – you can simply log-off, or delete somebody if you think things are getting a bit awkward.
What the internet tends to do is give a voice to people who wouldn’t have had one before. Whenever there is a revolution somewhere in the world nowadays, it seems to be filmed beginning to end, and posted on-line. It is harder and harder for governments to commit acts behind closed doors, and sites like Twitter enable people to form bonds and plan marches without risking breaking curfews, or being seen in one place together. Of course the day to day domestic use of these sites is nowhere near as grand, but it can still bring a sense of freedom to somebody`s life; if they have felt trapped within their own home or body, and been unable to properly express their thoughts and feelings, then they can simply write them down on a blog every night, and discover that there are people from all over the world – people they`ve never met – who feel the same. Take somebody who has had a passion for games, but doesn’t really feel able to go and join in with groups of people from their school who go to each other’s houses and play. If that young person with autism can set up a You Tube page talking about their games, and have hundreds of people subscribe to hear what they have to say, this gives them a forum for communication, and helps to raise self-esteem.
It`s easy to forget with all the viral videos, and funny cat pictures out there, how incredible the internet actually is. In the past you couldn’t know people from another place unless you actually went there, whereas now you can have friends from every country in the world. People with autism can spend as much time alone as they want, and still be in constant contact with people they care about. It’s a whole new form of socialising and communicating that other generations simply didn’t have access to. Of course you don’t want young people with autism to be living their lives entirely through a screen, but if you think that socialising and even meeting partners through the internet is not normal, or is somehow unhealthy, then maybe you are living in the wrong century.
This change in the way people socialise, and stay in contact with one another makes it easier for autistic young people to make and maintain friendships, even if they do struggle with going out and socialising in public places, or in large groups – and anything that can be helpful for people with autism is surely a positive thing? Obviously there are draw-backs – as there are with anything – but if people with autism can feel more free, and more able to socialise then their voices should be listened to, and people should respect the fact that autistic people have just as much right to have a presence on-line as anybody else.
The internet opens up a whole new world for people, and in a way, for autistic people, it gives them tools to help them cope in the world they are already living in. This article, and others like it are just examples of some of the resources people can find on-line, and through social networking sites that can hopefully be helpful to them. Sites like Twitter and Facebook have thousands of people who can offer help, and advice to young people with autism. And more than just giving them resources it makes them a part of an on-line community; part of a group of people who all have, or understand autism, from all over the world. So rather than feeling isolated with their condition they can understand that there are thousands of people going through exactly the same stuff they are. Rather than being the odd-one-out, they can be part of a community where to be autistic is the norm. Access to this help is just one of many positives for people with autism using social media.