Many autistic people enjoy the online world and find it a place for socialising and friendship as well as pleasurable activities such as gaming. Typed communication is easier for many of us as there is no need to try and figure out facial expressions or other non-verbal cues. However, life online can result in many difficulties for autistic people – and others. This article focuses on social media.
Who is a ‘friend’?
Some social media platforms refer to the people who follow you as ‘friends’. For many of us who were ostracised and bullied at school or in adult life, having hundreds of online ‘friends’ might seem a wonderful thing. However, just because someone is termed a friend does not mean they are a ‘real’ one. While some of your online followers are likely to be actual friends, others are not. Don’t assume that because someone is on your ‘friends’ list that they will behave in the way a friend would. This works the other way too – we can find ourselves being accused of stalking or predatory behaviour and this often happens when we misjudge that level of ‘friendship.’ It really isn’t nice to be accused of stalking, particularly if that was not your intent! If you would not like the level of attention you are giving another person applied to you then they probably don’t either! Err of the side of caution with this.
Looking out for predators
As autistic people we can be very trusting and open. The online world is filled with people trying to victimise and take advantage of others. People you just met offering intimate relationships or lucrative jobs are usually not to be trusted. When people add you and they have no mutual contacts, their account is private and you can’t view their posts and / or they claim to have a ‘prestige’ job (e.g. military officers, doctors), then they probably want to take your money so it’s best to decline their request to connect and block them.
‘But I don’t want to block someone. They might get upset!’
The block function on social media platforms is a wonderful thing. Some autistic people are very kind and obliging and don’t want to upset a person or lose a ‘friend.’ However if you feel the need to block someone it probably indicates that you should block them! Looking out for yourself is far more important than pleasing someone who may well be a toxic person. The block function is there for your protection. If you need to use it then do – it is most likely good self-care.
You are not just writing to your device
One of the issues with social media is that people often don’t fully realise the reach of what they post and upload. Sitting behind a screen makes it hard to imagine all the people you are potentially reaching. I have over 15,000 individual followers on social media but when I write a post I have to remind myself that they – and potentially many other people if my posts are shared – will all get to see what I write. if in doubt, don’t publish it and remember your audience is bigger than your laptop!
Thinking and posting carefully
I have found myself in many an online bun-fight where someone has either misinterpreted something I said or has attacked me for my views or for who I am. These are very stressful times where turning on your device can be filled with anxiety rather than pleasure. If you get into an online flame war, stop and think before you post in response. It is often a good idea to simply stop commenting and if the person who you are arguing is being a bully or troll, block them and delete the thread. You do not need to ‘win’ online battles and often self-care involves walking away,
It’s OK to take a break
Your do not need to respond to every comment or be online constantly. You have the right to use the technology in a way that works for you. There is no obligation to be online and available. Imagine your online presence is like your house. If someone knocks on the door you do not need to let them in. Many people find taking social media breaks very beneficial for managing overwhelm and stress.
Embrace the opportunities technology offers
I am 44 years old which means I was well into adulthood before the internet was widely available. I love social media and spend a lot of time on there. I try to always view social media as a positive. Online is where a lot of my friends live – genuine friends – and I am very happy there. I wish such positive experiences online to other people – and especially my fellow autists.
About Yenn Purkis
Yenn Purkis is an author, public servant and passionate advocate for Autistic people and their families. Yenn is the author of ‘Finding a Different Kind of Normal: Misadventures with Asperger Syndrome’ – an autobiography, ‘The Wonderful World of Work: A Workbook for Asperteens’- an activity book about employment for teens on the Autism spectrum. Yenn is co-author of ‘The Guide to Good Mental Health on the Autism Spectrum’ and ‘The Parents’ Practical Guide to Resilience for Children aged 2-10 on the Autism Spectrum.’ Yenn has also contributed to other books, journals, blogs and websites. Yenn has a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome and atypical schizophrenia.
Yenn has been working full-time for the Australian Public Service since 2007. In between writing and paid work, Yenn frequently gives talks about living well with Autism and mental illness. Yenn gave a presentation on Autism and resilience at the TEDx Canberra conference in 2013. Yenn facilitates a support group for women on the Autism spectrum and has their own internet radio show entitled Yenn’s Autism Show. Yenn lives in Canberra with their little black kitty.