Facebook and ASDs: “Like” or “Unlike”?

03 Oct

You can’t judge a book by its cover, and this is the case with Facebook. On the surface Facebook is a great thing: a website not related to an obsession, a website that allows an individual on the spectrum to make and interact with friends. Better than sliced bread, you might be thinking.

But all is not as it seems sometimes, and this is where kids on the spectrum can get in trouble.

If you look at a FB page, much personal information is displayed. Names, birthdays, interests, marital status, pictures, and friends. Your FB friends are pictured and named. What is a FB friend? I have about 60, 50 of which were college or high school friends who reconnected with me without much follow through to “catch up” from either side.

Recently, a client told me about an odd interaction he had: “I found an old friend,” he said. “I asked her to friend me and she did. I asked her a question and then she said, ‘This is an ultimatum. Stop contacting me or I will delete you as a friend.’”

Then, my client asked me to look at his page to help clarify the situation. Here is what I found: His facts were correct. But, what went unsaid was more important, as it always is. The old friend was on a previous sports team many years ago; she barely remembered him, but friended him. My client asked her “How was cheerleading” in response to her post “At cheerleading.” Then the ultimatum landed. He seems in the “right,” right? Unfortunately, he broke an unspoken rule as important as “don’t pick your nose in public.” He read her “status update,” a statement about what someone is doing or feeling, and responded to it. Other friends had responded too, but not other friends who had spoken to her in years or who jumped in with a question that appeared too personal. This was the basis for the threat to “defriend.” Essentially, she was asking my client to be a “silent” friend, if such a status exists.

I do not know whether to endorse or reject Facebook for individuals on the spectrum. So, here is some food for thought when assessing this tool:

· Much time is spent defining the concept of a friendship, let alone establishing and maintaining them, to individuals on the spectrum. Facebook implies, “If you ask and someone approves, you’re in. Even if you never talk again.”

· Spend time on different pages and you will begin to recognize the rules of who can ask “how was cheerleading” and who cannot. The “cannots” were friended to be polite or to pad a friend count.

· FB has the potential to provide kids on the spectrum with a calm, slow-paced setting in which to interact with others. No faces to read. No body language to judge. Just a static face and words. Until those words take the form of an ultimatum. Consider if you want such a static setting to teach social nuances and make friends. Because our world is anything but slow, I’m not sure that FB provides anything more valuable than a chat room of an email.

· Many individuals on the spectrum want to be no different than the others. If we disallow this tool to be cool, there is a price. Technology is moving on to bigger and better interaction modalities and it seems our kids are always behind.

Ultimately, I’m not sure about the outcome of the cost-benefit analysis of Facebook. I am sure that Facebook presents ways to connect, to fit in, to keep in touch , to learn, and to express yourself. But, is this the book we want our kids to author?


Posted by on October 3, 2010 in NTs on ASD


5 responses to “Facebook and ASDs: “Like” or “Unlike”?

  1. Tam

    October 3, 2010 at 5:23 AM

    IMO Your client was definitely not the one in the wrong here, when a person puts something out there on facebook they’re inviting anyone that they’ve allowed to see it to comment. She’s an idiot for making an ‘ultimatum’ like that, and just as much an idiot for posting something that she didn’t want everyone to see (she *could* have used the privacy settings to only show it to the ones she wanted to). He should drop *her* as a friend and not think anymore about it, but that she’s nuts. He did nothing wrong, and this was not a failure on his part in any way.

    As far as Facebook goes I think it’s a great tool, especially for people like me that have problems socializing. Through it I’ve managed to make local friends, for the first time since college, that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. I also actually seem to be a real person to my extended family now, instead of just being that weird girl that they don’t understand.

    I have a policy that I don’t add anyone, though, unless they’re 1) family, 2) someone that was/is a friend (not just someone from highschool or a random colleague whose name sounds vaguelly familiar), or 3) someone who I think I could end up being good friends with if I got to know them better. That way with most posts I don’t have to worry about sharing too much, and I don’t have to worry about people getting all weird on me like your client’s ‘friend’ did.

    I’ve also learned to be quick to remove someone, or in some cases, just to put them on ‘ignore’. If my posts are grating on someone’s nerves, or their posts are grating on my nerves, then being ‘friends’ on facebook isn’t doing our relationship any good, better to drop the friend status and just deal with them in person when necessary.

    If someone has a tendency to use all caps, or uses exclamation points on every post (those kind of posts literally hurt my brain to read), or always posts political/religious things I don’t agree with, but we still get along well otherwise, then I put them on ‘ignore’ so that I don’t have to see their posts all the time; but I can go look at their page every once in a while and still see all their updates, and we can still talk in comments/etc.

  2. jholverstott

    October 3, 2010 at 5:29 AM

    Tam, First, thank you for your kind words of support for my client. I will share and he will appreciate. Second, you basically just posted a FANTASTIC how-to rule book that I (no joke) may ask you to “copy” (and give you full documentation for) later! I will be sending others to read your simple, yet meaningful words — not my blog!

  3. Tam

    October 3, 2010 at 6:59 PM

    No problem if you wanna use it, however you want to. I’m glad my advice is appreciated 🙂

  4. Matt

    October 3, 2010 at 7:17 PM

    “Silent friends” – a very appropriate name for this phenomenon. I have many myself. Yes, there are certainly unwritten rules on Facebook that you learn the more time you spend there.

    I have rules similar to Tam’s for whether I’ll friend someone. If it was someone I haven’t seen in years, my requirement was that we exchanged at least one message. Of course, after the initial catching up, we usually ignore each other from then on. (And as time has gone on, I’ve gotten more lax on the message requirement.)

    Personally, I’d like it if distant acquaintances commented on anything I post – that was part of the weird excitement for me when I first opened my account. I have defriended at times, but never been defriended, and I would never give an ultimatum. I’ve also built/strengthened relationships I otherwise would not have, so overall, it’s been a good thing.

    • jholverstott

      October 3, 2010 at 7:39 PM

      I like the concept of “silent friends” very much. I think that my client’s lack of time spent on facebook was part of his trouble. I also think that “weird excitement” is what he wanted so dearly because he was/is largely ignored at school. I appreciate your comment, as it helps me know that I might be wary of its usage, but it can be very helpful.


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