I have been musing about online socialising for quite awhile now. Mainstream society would have me not socialise online, they would have me out socialising in real life and getting worn out. I enjoy socialising in person with others but in small manageable doses. I need to manage my spoons/energy and keep my life in balance. I can only manage so much real-life socialising before I lose my balance in life.
Online socialising and women's Autism groups have really, really helped me grow as a person. I have learnt so much about myself and it has been a relief to know I am not the only one with similar struggles. Socialising in these groups has helped me to become more open-minded, understanding and empathetic of others' journeys. It has helped me to accept and embrace the diversity of the world, because even within the Autism community there is diversity because we ALL come from different backgrounds and upbringings. It is our unique neurology which binds us together, we are diverse in all other ways.
Prior to getting involved in autistic groups I was quite close-minded, rigid and immature. I was judgemental of others and why they did the things they did. I did not know how to treat others who were different to me. I have since learnt a lot about myself, others and how to treat others since socialising online. I now make an effort to try and understand why others do what they do and their journey of what led them to this point. I try so hard to be empathetic and understanding of others now and not judge. I still do judge, I am still close-minded at times, I still stereotype but I am far more aware of it in myself than I ever was. I question myself and learn from my mistakes. It was the online social interaction in ASD women's groups which really helped me to learn this. I learnt what to say or write by reading what others wrote in response to others experiencing tough times. I learnt other socially appropriate things to say and write too. Socialising online is a way of me scripting social situations so I am able to learn how to interact with others. I learnt how to treat people with respect and be caring, empathetic way. At the same time I was forming amazing friendships with other Autistic women.
I would never have been able to cope with meeting so many people from all over the world in real life. I would have been too overwhelmed, anxious and overstimulated. I would not have been able to hold a conversation. Online socialising is the way to go for me.
I remember when I first joined up to an Autistic women's group. I remember the hesitancy I felt about joining. I was so focused on the stigma, the stereotype about Autism that I was afraid of the journey. I remember spending months being unsure I was even Autistic. It was a difficult time but once I accepted my neurology I felt so much peace within. I got more involved in groups. It was amazing to realise there so many other women experienced similar struggles, joys, and understanding of the world.
I have so much more self-awareness now as a result and which will continue to grow.
I thank all the amazing people who I have socialised with online over the past few years. You have taught me so much more than I would ever learn socialising in person.
I thank them for their friendship, understanding and acceptance of my own journey
E - “I also feel that facebook has helped me to become less judgmental by exposing me to many different kinds of people from all over the world. It has also given me the opportunity to learn and practice social skills that I've never had the chance to practice in 'real life'. Some of those skills are now transferring into 'real life'. Being a co-admin of a small group has been the kind of experience I would never have had in real life.”
When I went to a self-care workshop recently. They were talking about how unhealthy it is to isolate yourself (I agree, to a point) and be stuck in a rut for ages. They were talking about how important it is to get out and socialise. It is important but I am not going to have energy (spoons) to socialise when I am depressed or really anxious. I have just come out of a major depressive episode and I could not easily connect with others, no matter how much I tried. Even online socialising was difficult for me. It was too hard to think of what to write or share in groups. I withdrew to heal. I would not have coped with forcing myself to socialise when I could barely get words out in written communication. I am tired of people telling me socialising online is bad. It is not. It has been the best thing for me and for many others I know online.
The self-care workshop was really good, helpful and informative but very NT and not very Autism friendly. There was a big emphasis on socialising and connecting with others to stop oneself from sinking into depression. When I get depressed I regress and can barely verbalise myself. Socialising is the last thing I want to do. I take other solo self-care steps to improve my mental health, such as exercise, reading, watching funny movies and spending time with my family.
I have experienced a few negative interactions online since I have gotten involved in the Autistic community, which is unfortunate but bound to happen. They were quite traumatic for me. I would perseverate on why it happened, what went wrong and how I could fix it. I was so hurt and confused. I spent hours crying over these bad experiences. The pain was intense. I did not get involved, I withdrew to protect myself. I ultimately wish everyone could get along but I have come to realise this will never happen. I will clash with some people, some won’t like me, this is just how it is. The negative experiences I've had have helped me to grow and become stronger in myself. It's helped me to understand boundaries and not be afraid to set them. It's helped me to stop worrying about offending others and doing what is best for me and my emotional health.
Online socialising has helped me to learn to take a step back from a situation and not take it personally. I try to evaluate what the other person might be going through, where they are coming from and try to have empathy for where they are coming from. By doing this I endeavour not to judge the person and their journey. If I am emotionally too close to the situation it is more difficult for me to take a step back and evaluate it rationally.
I don't usually take other peoples' behaviour personally either. I see it as a reflection on them and where they are at in their journey of life.
I remember writing an essay for University about on-line gaming and education. It was quite fascinating.
It completely changed my opinion about computer games. I believe this helped pave the way for my openness about on-line socialising. When I interact with others in person I try to use my social skills I have learnt through on-line socialising.
I have noticed there appears to be a stigma attached to on-line socialising. When I have told people about my experiences online (good and bad), they are quick to judge and tell me it’s not real, not to get so involved, to focus on reality. What they don’t realise is for the first time in my life, I feel I belong. I have found my people, my culture. While we may not all get on, there is still an overwhelming sense of belonging and acceptance.
These people do not realise for the for the first time I am able to learn social scripts in real time and at a pace which suits me.
As my one of my on-line friends M puts it so eloquently, ‘I like the solitude of body and communication of mind, so mostly social media is easy to use. If I need to, I can take a break and that’s okay.’
When I talk to others about my experiences on-line, I am often silenced, undermined and told it’s not real life. I have found this incredibly hurtful and insulting. I feel I am part of a different culture more so than ever when this happens. I try not to let it bother me anymore. I have found my version of normal and what works for me. It can be exhausting finding my own path, but it is very rewarding.
Quote from my essay (which I wrote for Uni in 2009).
A study was done on the game World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online role-
playing game (MMORPG), and the online community that supported and educated players in the playing of the game. The study showed that there are advantages to playing computer games, particularly online games where players from all over the world connect to play. Players form guilds with which they socialise, play, learn and support each other. The study found that the way players learned how to navigate the game could be used to improve student learning in the classroom (Nardie, Ly & Harris, 2007). In World of Warcraft players create a character with which to play, through this character players then “explore, fight, socialise, make money, take up professions, and advance through 60 levels of play. Playing the game is complicated, players need to develop strategy, find out numerous game facts and develop their character
through various ways. “Despite this, the manual that comes with the game is a slim 4x5 inch volume. No teacher, coaches or curriculum explain the game. None of the familiar supports of formal education are in evidence – but no one fails World of Warcraft” (Nardi, Ly & Harris, 2007).
Overall the advantages of computer games is they provide an alternate way of educating students, rather than using traditional methods. Games also can provide ideas for new ways of teaching. Some of the tag lines that games use are; “Create your own heroes, Engage… Challenging… Perform… lead… Don’t work alone” (Prensky, 2005). The games deliver these promises to players. This is not exactly a description of today’s classrooms.
Prensky believes what is lacking in education today is engagement in learning; computer games offer this. Students still have to go to school whether or not it is engaging and that is enraging them to push their teachers to do better by them (Prensky, 2005). “…Game cultures promote various types of information literacy, develop information seeking habits and production practices (like writing), and require good old fashioned research skills,” (Squire, 2005).
Whilst the quotes focus on on-line gaming in education. These quotes echo a similar dynamic which is portrayed through my experiences with on-line socialising.
Prensky, M. (2002). The Motivation of Gameplay. On the Horizion, 10(1),
Nardi, B., Ly, S., & Harris, J. (2007). Learning conversations in World of Warcraft. University of California, Irvine: Author.
Squire, K & Steinkuehler, C. (2005). Meet the Gamers. Library Journal, 130, (7), 38-41.