Many children and adults who have autism find that social skills are extremely challenging. This has been true for my son, Lawton, for all of his 24 years. I have been trying to instruct and encourage appropriate social interactions for his entire life. This has been particularly difficult when he wants to tell someone exactly what he thinks. To help those who are not around someone like Lawton on a regular basis understand what I am talking about, here are a few examples.
Not long ago he told someone that they were a little bit fat. When I tried to help him understand that it was not polite to say that, his response was, "Well, he is." Often when his older siblings and their families are visiting, he begins on the first day asking when they are leaving. Again, I try to remind him that it isn't very nice to ask when they are leaving when they only get to visit a few times each year. His response is something like "The kids are annoying me and I need some peace and quiet."
Social appropriateness is hard enough in day-to-day life, but when we add social media to that, it can be very difficult to navigate for someone on the Autism Spectrum.
Several weeks ago, Lawton encountered something on social media that upset him. This has happened a few times since he has tried the various venues of social media. This time was different. He was more upset and hurt than I have ever seen him.
Lawton and I have had a lot of conversations about the downfalls of relationships online. One of the things I’ve talked to him about was the difficulty to know how someone meant something or the tone with which they said it. I told him that this is a problem for all people and that social media is the perfect place for a lot of misunderstandings.
For Lawton, online friends have been a blessing. He has found a few friends over the past couple of years who share similar interests and most, if not all, of them are on the Autism Spectrum. This is where some of the trouble comes into play. Social media is social! Even though all people can take something the wrong way or misunderstand what others have said, adding Autism to the mix can add up to hurt feelings, anxiety, and distress.
While I helped Lawton through a very trying time, I reminded him of how much he is loved. We prayed and asked God to resolve the problem. We read Scripture about worry and anxiety and we trusted Jesus to help us. We talked about social skills and how things can be said in a better way. I saw an opportunity to remind him to think about what he says or posts and to think of others and how they might hear or read it.
This is an area where all of us who are a part of the social media world can improve. We must remind ourselves to speak the truth in love. We must understand that we are all different but all created in the image of God. Words are powerful, and as Christ followers we should use our words to share and show the love of Jesus.