Growing up there was nothing I wanted more in this world than for people to see me for exactly who I am, and like me for it. I drive myself mad looking for this, because identity is unstable. People change as they get older through a combination of experience, genetic predispositions, and neuroplasticity. Aspergers is one fickle diagnoses, mainly because it is susceptible to all kinds of misinterpretation.
And then this miraculous invention called Facebook came out.
I joined Facebook in 2006 when it was still a relatively small community. One thing I loved about Facebook is that the social norms were different from in-person interaction, and often times made things easier on me. I can connect with people and not be criticized for my lack of eye contact or vocal tone.
I can filter my blunt comments, and assess my honesty before I say anything. Additionally, I can access hundreds of people within minutes who share my obscure interests, like Russian history or Phantom of the Opera. I think some of the first groups I joined were “addicted to piano,” and “when I was your age Pluto was a planet.” I had lived in 3 states and 2 countries at that point, and I could keep in touch with all of my friends from around the world.
Nowadays it seems like everyone I know is on Facebook and as a result, I have to keep my freak flag on a leash. Both of my grandmas are now on Facebook, and one of them said to me: “You better watch what you post because it might come back to bite you.”
What does that even mean? Do you even know how to use Facebook grandma? Turns out she did and also learned how to use an iPad way before I’d even seen one. To give you an idea of some of the posts my grandma was referring to, here is an example:
Dear girl who cheated off my exam today,
You’re a jerk.
Unfortunately for you, So am I. I put all the wrong answers in for you to copy and waited until you left to put the right ones in. It’s called studying.
Your passive aggressive classmate, Alix
I think social media’s impact on how we incorporate technology in our daily lives can condition us to display Asperger-type symptoms, the kind that my social skills training and family taught me not to do. Growing up my mom taught me to never use my cell phone at the table. To this day I never pull out my cell phone at a nice restaurant, even when asked to. Now when my friends and I go out, one is Instagramming their cocktail, the other answering a text from her husband, etc.
I don’t meet very many people my age who impress me with their ability to hold down a sincere conversation. I went to a youth group activity that was a meet and greet for young adults. I knew absolutely no one. I turned to this guy next to me and asked casually “What’s your name?”. He responded with one word “Martin,” and didn’t even look me in the eye, but instead was looking down at his phone where he had Facebook open.
I was talking to a CEO who runs a prominent company, he told me that when he hires graduates he looks for people who can look him in the eye, shake his hand, and carry on a conversation on top of meeting a few of the skills that would contribute to his company (e.g. using a computer program, or proficiency in Spanish, etc). He looks for people who have complex analytical skills or specialize in mastering one area. He could care less about the transcripts or grade point average of our degree.
There is hope for us with autism and there is a reason we should constantly strive to improve our social skills on top of pursuing our interests, because there are people who appreciate us for who we are and what we have. But in order to bridge that gap, we must have those social skills, even if Facebook and other social media is degrading the quality of interactions we have with people in person.
Alix’s childhood was hindered by undiagnosed Aspergers until she learned to harness her gifts. Now, at 21 years old, she has already done what most people can only hope to do in their lives; speak to the UN, make a major scientific contribution, give a TED talk, and travel the world. Alix was misdiagnosed as a child. Told she was strickened with a plethora of mental illnesses and learning disabilities, she spent years desperately seeking answers until she found the right kind of help that enabled her to flourish; piano playing, composing, ballet and science. Alix is an undergraduate student in Vermont working toward a degree in neuroscience. She is also currently working on several research projects studying autism and schizophrenia. She utilizes the college learning disabilities accommodation program and now lives comfortably with her challenges. Aspergers101 is thrilled to offer you the insights and brilliance of Alix!