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?