Facebook has become the cyberspace version of another era’s malt shop – the place where teens hang out after school and socialize. But lately, there’s been a great deal of media attention about its dangers.
In addition to those concerns, there are other pitfalls as well, including teens without many friends feeling depressed, suffering from having to bear witness to peers who are more popular, complete with photo albums of the many fun and exciting social activities that are being missed.
Even for socially well adjusted teens, Facebook can breed dangerous cyberbullying and gossip that gets carried over into their school lives. Many teen suicides as of late begin with hurtful words online that spread virally through Facebook. And psychologists warn that Facebook is cultivating a craving for instant gratification and shorter attention spans in our youth.
Given all these concerns, one would naturally feel wary for the teen with autism trying to navigate the world of Facebook. But Facebook can actually be very useful for such teens. Photos and names listed explicitly help them to track faces at school. Background information about friends is available and easy-to-reference and exchanges on Facebook can help them plan their next social exchange.
The teen with autism using Facebook doesn’t have to worry if they’re standing too close to someone or not making enough eye contact. The social cues that are so difficult in person are eliminated as is the concomitant anxiety and peril of trying to successfully make conversation. And as opposed to real life, teens with autism can control how they want to come across to others, then try to implement that in person.
Facebook can be used as social crib notes for those with autism, providing topics of conversation to use in real life and the ability to study how neurotypical teens interact. It also makes it easier for them to find others who share their special and often obscure interest. Additionally, they can showcase their strengths and abilities, attracting positive attention and possible internships or employment.
Of course, too much expsoure isn’t healthy either and teens should not be totally consumed by the world of Facebook. They would also need to be aware of online predators and the importance of not divulging too much personal information. But with proper guidance and oversight, Facebook does offer unique advantages for teens on the autism spectrum.