Social media can make forming friendships easier for autistic people, but there are pros and cons to consider.
The internet has changed the social landscape for people in many areas of the world. Smartphones have made social media accessible from more places than ever before.
If you’re autistic, your social life may differ from most people’s experiences. Social media can make it easier for you to build friendships, but there are safety issues you might want to know about first.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental difference that affects how your brain interprets and responds to your environment. It can impact how you interact with other people.
Autistic people tend to have social skills that differ from those of allistic (nonautistic) people. Since there are more allistics than autistics, the nonautistic ways are considered social “norms.”
Things like eye contact and small talk are a big part of social norms for neurotypical and neurodivergent allistic people. For autistics, though, it can be draining and stressful.
Other allistic differences include:
- the use of sarcasm and figurative language
- nonverbal communication, like the use of tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language
- social conventions like etiquette
Theory of mind is another common difference. It refers to how aware you are that others have different perspectives. Allistic people tend to have more theory of mind sensitivity, which means they may not think to tell you how they feel because they assume you should know.
Experiences can vary. Not all autistic people face every difference. Still, it’s understandable if you sometimes feel overwhelmed by in-person socializing.
One of the perspectives that many autistics share is how social media can ease some of the discomforts of in-person interactions, where you might feel distressed from your efforts to camouflage autistic traits.
Research from 2018 shows this masking can lead to mental health effects like depression and anxiety.
Social media may help for several reasons:
- no need for eye contact or nonverbal communication
- keyboarding instead of speech
- increased social connections through like-minded communities
- access to support groups and relevant information
Meanwhile, a 2018 study found a link between Facebook use and increased happiness in autistic adults.
Social media has some downsides.
For example, like in-person interactions, internet socializing has some unwritten rules that influence your messages. Things like:
- emoji use
- case choice
How often you post and the things you say also matter.
However, unlike in-person contact, you choose the pace of online interactions. This gives you time to read, learn about allistic communication, and think about your posts.
There are other downsides to social media, such as:
- impulsive posts can leave a permanent digital record
- exposure to inappropriate material or predators
- deceit from people hiding their true identity (catfishing)
- limited social experience
- anxiety from unrealistic expectations
- personal security threats from phishing posts
- accidental oversharing
It’s important to be aware of these possibilities to keep yourself safe.
Anyone who uses the internet can benefit from some safety tips. You might try to:
- Remember that the person you’re communicating with could be hiding their identity. Avoid giving out personal information like your address or birth date.
- Avoid sharing your schedule or travel plans.
- Remember every post is permanent (even if you delete a post, this doesn’t get rid of screenshots).
- Avoid oversharing to keep social boundaries intact.
- Remember that your intentions might not be clear. What can seem like an interesting debate to you might feel like a fight for someone else.
- Pay attention to your feelings and log off if you get upset.
Social media can offer autistic people a way to interact without navigating allistic face-to-face social conventions. It can also help connect you to resources and support.
It comes with some risk, so it’s important to think about safety strategies before you log on.