Is Social Media Beneficial to those with Autism?

Social media has become a staple in communication across the globe. It allows for constant contact, networking, and various levels of friendly and professional communication that could not otherwise be achieved. It provides an unlimited amount of benefits, with the digital world at the fingertips of anyone who chooses to use it. One impact that social media has that is less commonly explored is its impact on those with autism in the communication world.

Over recent years, it has been debated whether or not social media is an effective tool in maintaining relationships for those on the autism spectrum. While on one hand it may eliminate some of the anxieties and immediacies of face-to-face communication, on it can also provide a new set of social norms to follow, and some individuals may find difficulties maintaining new personal online connections.

According to an article in The Globe and Mail, one example of success of social media in autism is the impact it has had on previously non-verbal 10-year-old, Jordan Hilkowitz. Jordan has utilized his very own YouTube channel to reach 1.5-million viewers with his science experiments, and has received an immense amount of researcher attention as a result.

Communication through social media can be rewarding to those with autism because it allows for extended response time.  Individuals with autism have more time to think about social responses without the pressure of time constraints.  It allows them to choose their own conversations, without the need to understand all of the nonverbal cues that go along with face-to-face communication.  They can also become part of a network of others also coping with autism, and form friendships while learning from one another.

The article quotes one of Jordan’s posts. “I just want to say thank you to everyone who has written nice comments about my videos.  I sometimes have a hard time making friends and I now know there are some nice people out there.”

Social media has boosted Jordan’s confidence and overall improved the quality of his life and ability to communicate with others. He has improved in speech, and has created and maintained friendships.

Another miraculous story follows Carly Fleishmann, a severely autistic teenager who, without social media, would not be able to relay her story to the world. Carly is 17 years old and nonverbal, but has managed to reach the world through the use of her blog, Carly’s Voice, Twitter (@CarlysVoice), and most recently through her book, which has been promoted primarily through YouTube.  In her case, social media allowed her to reach and touch the hearts of millions, even though she has extreme difficulties communicating in person.

However, guidelines for social media etiquette can be very blurry.  While some people with autism have managed to maintain relationships, and even connect with others they have met online in person, others can get frustrated or confused.  The Internet is a breeding ground for debate, so it is not uncommon to receive negative comments or responses to information that is put out.  This can be disheartening to those with autism, especially in this form of communication that some consider to be therapeutic.  It is also difficult to trust online friends, and there is no definitive set of social rules to follow when dealing with the World Wide Web.

According to a social media blog, 140conf.com, researchers have been conducting studies regarding the interaction between humans and computers in order to design a Computer-Mediated Communication system that is easier to follow for autistic individuals.  Many believe that there is immense potential in social media’s benefits for those with autism, and more autistic individuals are turning to social media networks each day.

 

Sources:

http://www.healthymagination.com/blog/nonverbal-autistic-teen-finds-voice-on-social-media/

http://140conf.com/autism-and-social-media

http://carlysvoice.com/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/social-media-helping-autistic-children-navigate-the-world/article4358736/

http://www.youtube.com/user/doctormadscience?feature=watch