Getting Real with David T. Bruce
My son is on the autism spectrum, diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Academically, he excels; socially, he struggles. At school, he struggles, not with math, languages or the sciences, but with understanding sarcasm, reading body language and picking up on social cues. His tendency is to dominate a conversation, and because he is often preoccupied with music, he talks of little else. Consequently, he finds it difficult to make friends and maintain friendships.
In contrast (and ironically), my son has a wealth of compassion. He is easily moved emotionally when someone is physically hurt or wronged. Even when such behavior is dramatized – in a movie, for instance – he feels sad. He spends a great deal of time trying to understand the human condition in the books, poems and song lyrics that he reads. When he reads aloud, his reading comprehension is exceptional. What he cannot express verbally, he can do so through the written word.
The realm of social media is a world that many of us do not understand and, in a sense, fear. Subsequently, the Internet functions somewhat as a rift, separating a generation that vividly remembers manual typewriters, carbon paper and rotary dial telephones from a generation born with split-second access to friends and information around the globe. Within this realm, my son has discovered the means to express himself.
Granted, the Internet is largely unregulated, and as such, parents are concerned that their children will introduce viruses or malware to their computer systems, will become prematurely sex educated, or will become the target of online predators. These are certainly valid concerns; however, with carefully-tuned firewalls and regular parental guidance, children can discover the benefits of connecting to others that share the Internet. The concept of “stranger danger” no longer applies to just walking home from school.
With regular monitoring of his computer use by me and my wife, our son engages with his friends and other peers on Facebook, sharing his ideas and his passions. And what we are discovering (as are his friends) is that his passions do not revolve exclusively around music. He is politically engaged, he loves puppies and he has a subtle, rapier wit. In general, and especially when he is frustrated, he finds it very difficult to verbally communicate how he feels; when he writes social media posts, he eloquently communicates his thoughts and emotions.
Our son is using the Internet and social media to bridge the communication gap that exists for him as a result of Asperger’s syndrome. And while there are many risks connected with being connected, our efforts to mitigate those risks help our son realize the benefits and share not only the latest news about or image of his favorite band, he shares a piece of him that his friends might be missing when they are truly face to face.