Social Media and Asperger’s/Autism: Help or Hindrance?

Considering my blogs so far have focused on the detrimental aspects of social media, I decided to finish off on a positive note this time. I was chatting to a friend of mine recently, whose daughter is on the Asperger’s/Autism spectrum, and she was telling me how useful Facebook has been in helping her daughter interact with others. I thought this was extremely interesting, given my previous blog topics, and I was curious how social media was helping people living with this condition.

One of the most common issues that people on the spectrum have is experiencing sensory overload when trying to interact with people in person. There is just so much information to process that they have difficulty focusing on having a conversation. Social media removes this problem as conversations online can be thought out and there can be a pause between responses. While not only does this take away some anxiety, it also helps to teach social, conversational, and relationship building skills in a safe environment.

Facebook also allows for people with similar interests to find each other. People who are on the spectrum can easily find groups who are dealing with the same challenges, instantly connecting them to a support group of peers that can understand what they are dealing with on a daily basis. As people on the spectrum can also tend to have very obscure or specific interests/hobbies social media also allows them to connect with others that may share this specific interest.

By being able to build relationships online and work on their social skills in a low pressure environment, this can enable those on the spectrum to feel more comfortable interacting with these people in real life, as they have already gotten to know them online, alleviating a lot of the pressure that would otherwise exist.

There are always risks involved, and monitoring and limiting usage as a parent would be even more important for these children, as there would be an increased concern that it might cause more isolation and inhibit efforts to develop in person relationships. Despite this, as my friend explained to me, social media has been an invaluable tool for her daughter to be able to increase her confidence, make new friends and overcome some of her daily social challenges. The benefits for her have far outweighed the risks, under the right supervision.

[cycleofsilence] (2014, 11 June) Asperger’s Syndrome: Social Media [Video File] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fo_3wYiD-14

What do you think? Is social media a valuable tool for people who have challenges with social interaction, or is the risk too great for those of us that may be more vulnerable to online dangers?

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Is screen time stunting our kid’s development?

Considering my previous blog posts on the effects that smartphones and social media are having on our lives, I was intrigued by the news item today about a study, published in Psychiatric Quarterly, which is claiming that up to 6 hours of screen time a day really isn’t that bad for teenagers. This is quite the departure from previous studies on the subject, which linked excessive screen time to decreased brain development in kids. It also runs contrary to my own personal observations.

Overstimulation

Have you noticed that you have trouble just focusing completely on one thing? I think a lot of people have this issue. We watch TV, but we also scroll through our phone. We sit down for coffee with friends, but are half distracted by the latest story trending on twitter. As published in Psychology today, this is one of the major issues of allowing children to play with tablets and smart phones at a young age. Unlike listening to a teacher or parent read a story, where there is only one focus, the voice, and it is necessary for the child to use their imagination, screens allow multiple different stimuli, touch, sound and picture. This is impeding the development of concentration skills and the ability to focus! If this can affect adults who didn’t grow up with this technology so fundamentally then imagine what it is doing to our children!

Decreased Empathy and Social Skills

If we have our attention focused on our phones rather than our peers we are missing out on social cues and our ability to recognize and react to other emotions. As reported by the National Post, neurotherapist Mari Swingle has observed decreased levels of attachment between parents and children, as the child is focused on a screen rather than observing and responding to their parent’s verbal and physical behaviours. Children learn how to interact with others through their relationship with their parents. How this can happen when screens are increasingly being used as a surrogate parent?

Instant Gratification

How long are you willing to wait for a response? A few minutes, and hour, a day. Most likely a few minutes to an hour is the response of most people. As this Boston Globe article reports, we are becoming increasingly impatient, because smartphones have made everything almost instant! We can reach our friends, book appointments, answer all our questions all with the tap of a finger. When a child is using a smartphone they are learning this behaviour, with a touch there is an instant response from their game or app. This may seem great on the surface, increasing engagement and productivity, but it has destroyed our ability to be patient. A skill that is needed to succeed in school, to save money to grow a career. How is the next generation supposed to succeed when this crucial skill is underdeveloped?

I think there is little doubt that screen time has a significant effect on child development. This new study concerns me, as it focused specifically on screen time and its effect on levels of depression and delinquency, but what about quality of life and social skills? Were these taken into account? I think it is dangerous for one study to make such sweeping claims in contradiction of so many previous investigations in to this matter.

Do you think smartphones are a useful parenting aid, or are we becoming too reliant on these devices to entertain our children?

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Smartphone Detox: Maybe it’s time to leave the phone at home!

After writing my last blog post last week on how social media is changing our relationships, I was inspired to do an experiment: No Facebook, no twitter, Instagram or any other social media platform for 5 days. I left my phone at home and allotted myself 30 min an evening to answer text messages and personal email. Here are some of my main my main observations:

We have forgotten how to sit still with our thoughts

I was waiting to go into a meeting on day one and my first instinct was to reach for my phone. It was extremely uncomfortable to sit there with nothing to do. I fidgeted, tapped my foot watch the seconds tick by. I felt like a kid again waiting with my parents for a doctor’s appointment and having to be told to sit still and be patient. We have become so accustomed to having entertainment or work at our finger tips that we have actually forgotten how to just be alone with our thoughts for 5 minutes. Are we all developing technology induced ADHD?

People are so impatient

Apparently waiting a few hours to text someone back it tantamount to relationship suicide. To put it mildly, I upset a lot of friends and family. My mother thought I must have been kidnapped, or worse (in retrospect I probably should have filled her in on my little experiment). The person I am dating was certain I must be furious with him about something. My friends thought I was ignoring them. It is amazing how we have come to expect such immediate responses, that when we don’t get one we immediately resort to catastrophic thinking. What if the person we texted had simply lost or forgotten their phone or was stuck in an all-day meeting, and yet we are already pulling our hair out ready to send out search parties and sniffer dogs! It has become such an issue that Psychology Today has even written an article on how to prevent text message burnout!

Sleep! Oh how I missed you

The first two days were hard. When you are struggling to get to sleep, what do you do? Immediately reach for your phone, scroll through Facebook, secretly take that stupid quiz that we made fun of everybody else for doing. But after a couple days, peace! There were no more late night texts or notifications beckoning me to reach for my phone, I was reading a book instead of staring at a screen. I was actually feeling much more relaxed. No more waking up to see the daunting number of work emails waiting for me. There is actually some science behind this one.

Leading by example

It’s a sad state of affairs, but normally when I go out for lunch with friends half of the time is spent answering urgent work emails or texts and just generally being distracted from the actual human interaction that was the intention. Being the only one without a phone makes people uncomfortable and self-conscious. Not having your face glued to a phone in social situations has actually become the exception, not rather than the norm. I have to say, I am fully in agreement with the Washington Post on this issue.

There is no question at the end of this experiment I was very happy to have my security blanket back, because really, that is what it has become. But it has definitely impressed upon me just how pervasive their usage has become. I am not going to swear off social media for good, but I think the no phones rule at lunch and in bed is here to stay!

Could you go a week without your phone?

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Is social media destroying our relationships?

There is no question that social media has enabled people to be more connected than ever before. It has brought people and communities together from across the globe, but at what price? There seems to be an inverse relationship between the ease and number of connections and the depth and value of these interactions and relationships. I think social media has fundamentally changed our personal relationships and not always for the better.

Alone in a crowd

We have 100’s of ‘friends’ on our social media accounts but when was the last time you actually had a meaningful conversation with them? How many of these ‘friends’ would you call up when you have a bad day or ask to go out for a drink? We go out with our friends to have a good time, but the value of this in-person interaction is no longer determined by the conversations and connection that evening, but by the likes we get from our virtual friends on the picture we posted. We sit in a bar or a café with our friends, but instead of interacting with them, we are glued to our phones, more concerned about the approval and opinions of those we may never even have met in real life! We have lost the value in our relationships. Our worth is now based on our number of ‘friends’ rather than the actual value of those friendships. It seems like we have all these “connections” but we have never been more alone.

Social media savvy, socially awkward

As one of the last generations to grow up without social media or even cell phones I have seen how significantly these tools have changed social interaction. I think back to high school and just how incredibly different my experience would have been had Facebook and Snapchat existed at the time. Nobody had cell phones; if you wanted to talk to your friends, you actually had to pick up a phone, or heaven forbid, knock on their door! These days doing either of those things is almost tantamount to an invasion of privacy. A phone conversation has become such an intimate thing that it is something you only do with family or very old friends. We used to call or get together with our friends to catch up on their lives, to hear their stories, but with everything now posted on our social media, these conversations are now no longer necessary, we can know everything about someone: their family, their opinions, their last holiday, and even what they had for dinner! What is it doing to our social skills when our interactions are now limited to 149 characters and an emoji? Emotional intelligence is developed by learning to read facial expressions, body language and intonation. We are losing this exposure. What does this mean for the younger generations and their ability to build relationships and interact people?

Social media anxiety

We have all felt that jolt of excitement as we hear the ping or see the screen of our phone light up. That little rush of dopamine that makes us feel good. It’s addictive, we want more! We try to focus on other things, but we keep glancing at our phone. Why haven’t they responded yet? Why hasn’t anyone liked my picture? The minutes tick by as we get more anxious. We start running through the reasons why there is no response. The more we think about it the more negative they become, until finally that notification pops up and we have this surge or relief. We then wonder why we were so anxious in the first place. Sound familiar? This need for immediate validation has become so addictive that even waiting the space of a few minutes has become excruciating. We think that if we don’t get that instant response that it has some bearing on our importance, our self-worth. 15 years ago, if you called someone and they didn’t answer, you would think, “oh, they must be out, i’ll try again later”. Now if you send that text message and you don’t get that immediate response it begins this agonizing cycle of reasons why they aren’t interested in you, if you did something wrong etc. We make all these negative assumptions about ourselves and others simply based upon how long it took for someone to get back to us. There is now this expectation that we have to be constantly connected, everything has to be immediate. We are turning into a generation full of addicts!

Social media has irrevocably changed the way we interact. It has shrunk our globe and has opened us up to new ideas and opinions. It has connected us like never before. Unfortunately, as our world has gotten smaller, our relationships with those closest to us have become more distant. We are losing our ability to foster meaningful relationships and conversations. We are being sucked into the virtual world instead of focusing on the human one. This is not only changing our perception of ourselves and our worth, but leading to unrealistic expectations of our friends and acquaintances. Social media is an invaluable tool, but only if we use it as an extension of our real world relationships, not as a replacement.

How has social media changed your relationships? Has it improved them, or is it getting in the way?

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Social media has irrevocably changed the way we interact. It has shrunk out globe and has opened us up to new ideas and opinions. It has connected us like never before. But as our world has gotten smaller, our relationships with those closest to us have become more distant. We are being sucked into the virtual world instead of focusing on the human one. Are we losing our ability to foster meaningful relationships and conversations? https://wordpress.com/post/algonquincollegesocialmedia.wordpress.com