Autism and the Internet

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to have a discussion about a somewhat polarizing topic- the internet and autism.

The internet is without a doubt one of the most powerful tools in the world- it connects us, shops for us, provides us with data instantly and is a vital tool in both school and the workplace. But as with most tools, it has many sharp and dangerous edges. As such, we need to be quite cognizant of both sides of the coin for vulnerable autists.

The internet often feels like a Godsend to an autist- it educates us about our condition, keeps those of us with ADHD stimulated (so many hours of online content to shut my brain up! 😛 ) and it removes the physical barriers of socializing, allowing us to make friends in a seemingly less threatening environment. Online support groups, vlogs and blogs can be immensely beneficial for autists, giving information, advice and a sense of community, knowing there are people out there dealing with the same struggles as you.

It can also really help mitigate some of the anxiety associated with in person or phone interactions. I’ve always hated shopping, so the rise in online retail during the pandemic has been very convenient for me, allowing me to offset some of the awkwardness and anxiety I would normally feel when dealing with retail workers (not to mention it’s keeping my habit of dropping/knocking things over in shops from poor coordination at bay! 😛 ). Even little things like being able to book appointments and restaurants over the internet can have a huge impact for an autist- the smallest of things can make our lives so much less stressful.

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of the internet to emerge from the pandemic for autists is how it enables us to work remotely. With just a couple of clicks, we can work away as if we were in a physical office, safe in the comfort of our home, free from many of the stresses of workplace life.

But as useful as the internet is, it can also be a very dangerous place for autists.

The internet provides us with a vast network of information, but a large percentage of it goes un-monitored which could be dangerous in the hands of vulnerable autists. We can be quite innocent and trusting, our struggles with social cues often making it difficult to discern what is truly ingenuous. The internet is filled with harmful pages about “curing” autism which a desperate and struggling autist could take at face value. The threat of cyber bullying is a serious issue for today’s youth (I was blessed this was only taking off as I was leaving school), but autists are especially vulnerable given our social struggles. An even bigger danger may arise from these struggles as online predators may target autists, many of whom may be innocently oblivious to their potential danger.

Furthermore, there are an increasing number of studies which have identified a trend of internet addiction among autists, as we can often be vulnerable to addictive behaviours. Researchers feel that the internet allows us to compensate for our social difficulties in the offline world through online activity. The list of perceived advantages of the internet is endless to an autist, and so it can very quickly become a crutch.

Whilst we can put up filters and blocks to mitigate some of these risks, there is a real need to properly educate growing autists about the internet and the potential threats that are out there. Not just from others, but autists also need to be educated about the danger they pose to themselves with what they post on the internet. With our mimetic and impulsive nature, internet behaviours can often be monkey see-monkey do, and so we may post inappropriate content without properly realizing the potential consequences.

It’s easy to demonize it, but we cannot deny that the internet truly has provided a platform to increase visibility for the autistic community in recent years. It’s given so many of us a voice that we never knew we could have. The internet is on the whole primarily a good thing for autists, but we should always be wary of the dangers and advocate for proper education around internet usage.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! 🙂

Aoife

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