AUTISM: THE IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL INTERACTIONS AND THE INTERNET

Socialization is a Darwinian trait that has allowed us to succeed where other more physically adept species have failed. Robin Dunbar, a Professor of Evolutionary Psychology and Behavioral Ecology at the University of Liverpool, has challenged the prevailing reasoning that our brains evolved to process factual information. Instead Dunbar believes that our big brains have evolved in order to enlarge the total number of members within our social group. This idea is based on two established facts: 1) that primates must maintain close personal contact with members of their social group in order to survive and 2) the total number of members within our social group that we can track is limited by the volume of the cerebral cortex.

Socialization encourages sharing of knowledge, team effort and helps engender alliances. People that are socially isolated (i.e., lack of contact with other members of our social species) do not share in the advantages of socialization. As an example, people with an avoidant personality disorder have a fear of rejection that shames them from attempting any social relationship. This leads to a viscious cycle of anxiety, mistrust, and a tendency to use self-punishment. Socially isolated individuals get sick more often and have a higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders. For some individuals social isolation is even painful in the physical sense. It is noteworthy that, in many cases, the genesis of social isolation starts during childhood when a sensitive child is the object of bullying or ridicule.

People behaving in groups act very different than when acting alone (i.e., socially isolated). This behavioral trait is called deindividuation. In deindividuation personal values disappear and become subsumed under those of the collective. Under certain circumstances this is a dangerous state that accounts, in part, for negative group behaviors like mob violence and genocide. Researchers believe the psychological state of deindividuation is due to decreased self-evaluation while the opposite accounts for social isolation.

Paul Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist, first introduced the term autism in 1910. He derived it from the Greek word autos (αὐτός, meaning self). The term is meant to describe an individual who is removed from social interaction and, in this regard, isolated. Social isolation makes you anonymous to outsiders. People surrounding a socially isolated individual often express a reduced feeling of accountability and feel empowered/justified to do nasty things to them. Any time an individual becomes less identified with a group he/she may become targets of bullying.

I do believe that parent of autistic individuals should promote social interaction in their children. Unfortunately, socialization and one-to-one interaction have taken a back seat to the internet. Digital interactions are not socially demanding nor do they carry the same emotional load as a face-to-face interaction. Electronic interactions do not teach the meaning of body language or face gestures. This new technology has rapidly eroded social skills in the present generation but, more so, presents challenging problems for our autistic children.

Technologies like the Internet and iPads can calm autistic individuals but if carried to extremes may promote social isolation. It is easy to leave children immersed with new technologies, as they require less effort and supervision on our part. However, children need parents that set rules, rather than parents that act as accommodating friends. It is recommended that as a parent you set a weekly schedule that limits the amount of screen time exposure while taking care that such exposure does not disrupt family time (e.g., no screen time during dinner).

The following are some suggestions from The Autism Blog (http://bit.ly/1WcvqgW):

· Parents should monitor social media closely and should have access to account passwords. Young people with ASD are likely to learn social media later than their peers. They also may lack social nuance awareness that puts them at risk for problematic online interactions, including cyber-bullying.
· Parents should give a ten minute warning prior to ending screen time. At the point at which screen time access is over, parents should use clear and calm communication and should avoid negotiating over additional screen time.
· Parents should avoid demonizing digital technology. With open conversation, parents can establish limits and boundaries for screen time, without creating an adversarial interaction. Digital media is very engaging, there is no denying it. As adults, we can respect digital media while still respecting our boundaries.

Digital interactions are superficial. “A smiley can never be a replacement for a real smile.” We must use digital interactions to our benefit, not detriment.

2 responses to “AUTISM: THE IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL INTERACTIONS AND THE INTERNET

  1. One of the problems with that argument is that there is limited social interaction opportunities for autistics as most people don’t like them due to funny movements, loudness, etc. Non-mixed social interaction, autistic children only with autistic children, may not be as fufilling to some. Upon reaching adolescence and adulthoood, the problems become even worse for males because of society’s mixed marriage prejudices and the fact that there is a 10:1 ratio of autistic males to autistic females in higher functioning individuals. Also, in the group of which I’m an original member, Adult Gathering United Autistic, there are large geographical distances spreading out most of the persons with autism in our group, the majority of whom don’t drive with limited opportunities for public transportation in southern california. Hard to form friendships when a lot of the people live 40 to 50 or 60 miles apart, so the goal though well-intentioned is indeed formidable.

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  2. For me social media has been a blessing.In the last nine years,that I have gone from simply an autism diagnosis,and a bunch of unexplained medical issues,to piling up several medical diagnoses,and most recently a WES that found a three mutations of a “new” unknown variation of a very rare genetic disorder,that is possibly my main diagnosis.I have been in groups,exclusively with parents where I am the only person on the spectrum.Starting with the ARI group on Yahoo in 1986.Yahoo groups,Google groups,and Facebook groups.Through these groups,I have learned about tests,treatments,and been able to get in with doctors I may not have been able to get or see otherwise.I have also been able to provide these parents with a positive role model of an adult with autism,who has serious problems,similar to those of their children,People who have diagnoses so unusual the chances of meeting them in person are slim to none.Social media is wonderful.

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