Building friendship online for autistic teenagers.
I saw a twitter discussion today which asked:
“What’s the best way to help #autistic teens develop good friendships?” (Source: @reachoutASC)
I had a think and here is my response.
Find online forums relating to special interests then spend some time supporting the individual to write an introduction and contribute.
What is a forum.
Online forums are also known as discussion boards. When I was a teenager I joined one called Boagworld forum about my big obsession (web design and development) and it worked really well for me.
I think a forum works well because:
- Less social skills needed
- more time to process and respond.
- safely (no physical contact) socialise with older people who will be more forgiving.
- speak with people who have a similar degree of knowledge about my obsession subject.
What about safety?
Safety online is never perfect. But with a few techniques it can be manageable.
For younger teenagers, they should not be online unsupervised. This is even more important for those who are naive or vulnerable.
For older and more able users, support is required.
I would suggest looking for a profession forum relating to a special interest. These can often be found in Magazines.
I would then suggest the young person is supported to write an introductory post to introduce themselves.
In my opinion, for a professional forum disclosing autism is a sensible thing to do. In my experience (10+ years) professional forums are very likely to welcome a knowledgable new member regardless of the autism. By knowing from the start, you create an environment where you can explain needs and hopefully also raise some awareness along the way.
It’s also sensible to follow the transitional ‘cyber’ safety rules:
- Do my use real name
- Do not disclose location or school
- Establish ground rules and provide support.
It won’t always be smooth sailing. I use to get upset on the forum often. But that was part of the learning process. It had huge value.
I met most of my friends online via forums. My friends also provide a great deal of support for me, so the web was instrumental in my life and my journey to independence.
A friend i met online 10 years ago is currently living with me providing support. So while the return may not be immediate it can be huge.
Finally, interaction on the forums led to me attending events. When i attended events, everyone knew me and that made it much easier. People could focus on my skills not my needs.
Attending events became invitations to speak at events. Via a whirlwind of awesome involving Apple, Channel 4 and the BBC that led to my current career.
I didn’t interact with my ‘age peers’. I still don’t. I interact with my actual peers, my age is unimportant.
If you want to try this, let me know and I would be happy to help identify forums and the like.