Autism: How to manage social media situations
Updated: Jun 13
Exploring social media isn’t always easy. People with autism can face additional challenges but also experience positives with social media. HFA Today explores what these situations can be and how to handle them. Is social media for you?
Unfriended or unfollowed?
Rejection can sting a person hard. Autism often makes a person vulnerable to it because they face social difficulties. According to Psych Central, too often, peers may not offer constructive feedback to an autistic person on their social media behaviour if they
accidentally offend them. Instead, peers may unfollow, unfriend, or even block the person. According to Verywell Health, autistic people are usually sensitive to others’ negative reactions.
How can one on the spectrum cope with people dumping them on social media? MakeUseOf suggests not to dwell on it or take a break from social media altogether. According to Spectrum, autistic people are four times more likely to have depression than their typical peers. Therefore, it’s important for them to distance themselves from negativity, move on from the unfrienders, focus on current good friends and make new ones.
Adding the right people?
According to Touchpoint, people on the spectrum are easy cyberbullying targets because of their social naivety. These people may not always understand the intentions behind others
when they connect with them. For example, it’s common knowledge not to respond to messages or accept friend requests from people you don’t know or have harassed you in real life. However, some autistic people may not be aware that others might add them to take advantage of them. They might think the other person wants to be friends.
One strategy Touchpoint suggests to autistic people to prevent cyberbullying is to change social media privacy settings so only people they trust can see their activity. It’s also likely best to have a smaller list of friends or followers on social media. A person seeing hundreds of people on these platforms when they aren’t sure if they are on good terms with them, isn’t exactly healthy from a mental health standpoint.
According to Psych Central, unspoken social rules don’t only apply to real life, but also online. People on the spectrum can often be unaware of when they have crossed social boundaries on social media despite good intentions. The social media intentions come from likes and comments. One example of crossing social boundaries is that autistic person “A” might repeatedly like and comment on Facebook posts from an acquaintance they don’t know well. This behaviour might come across as clingy to the other person, making them feel uncomfortable. Eventually, the other person may unfriend the autistic person.
Psych Central also suggests that if an autistic person thinks they may have annoyed someone, they can privately message the person to resolve the issue rather than publicly post about it. This may prevent a wide audience from noticing drama. However, if the offense results in the person unfriending them, it’s best to not contact that person.
Aaron McGinley, a The Black Mountain Academy mental health counsellor for people with autism, did a TED talk on how people with autism experience social media in 2016.
Is online interaction easier?
As people on the spectrum have challenges with non-verbal communication, online interaction can be easier for them. According to Psychology Today, social media can reduce anxiety with face-to-face communication. While the internet usually allows people to be something they aren’t, the internet is an opportunity for people on the spectrum to show who they really are because conversing away from the screen is a challenge for them. According to Enabling Devices, many autistic people struggle with understanding body language, facial cues, jokes, irony, sarcasm and to quickly respond to these non-verbal cues.
A 2017 study by the Yale Department of Psychiatry and Yale Child Study Center found that adolescents with autism have higher friendship quality through social media use. Despite this big difference, an autistic person developing face-to-face communication is still a good idea.