Asaka Park, a 17-year-old teenager, recently was announced as one of 12 winners of The New York Times‘s Sixth Annual Student Editorial Contest. Her winning essay, titled “I’m a Disabled Teenager, and Social Media Is My Lifeline”, is about Park’s autism and her usage of the internet and social media to interact with people.
This part of her essay, in particular, described why some people with autism and autism spectrum disorders feel more comfortable interacting with people via social media than in person:
…I struggle with impulsivity. My physical clumsiness makes it hard for me to maintain appropriate facial expressions and tone of voice. While I easily grasp abstract concepts, I often can’t convert them into tangible, step-by-step actions, making it difficult to communicate gracefully. Even the untrained eye notice these challenges, and they confound my social faux pas as a failure to understand or share other people’s expectations.
I’m depleted. Every day at school, I isolate myself from most of my peers: it’s a matter of time before they make these assumptions, before they postulate how my brain works. On social media, though, I’m a completely different person. I’m dynamic. I’m assertive. I’m people-oriented.
Many claim that social media distracts teens from meaningful, genuine interactions. My experiences, however, are the total opposite of that. Cultivating my own space on the Internet helped me thrive outside the pigeonhole. Namely, I use my blog to explain the real reason why I act the way I do. Even though not everyone will understand, I know some people will, and it gives me tremendous hope.Source
As someone with an autism spectrum disorder called Asperger’s syndrome, Park’s essay describes people like me very well. My experiences with interacting with others in person are not drastically dissimilar to those of Park, as I experience many of the same difficulties that Park does when trying to interact with people in person.
I do not have any normal friendships with people that I’ve met in person, as I’m way too socially-awkward of a person to be able to maintain anything resembling an in-person relationship or friendship with anyone. However, I find it far easier to communicate with others via the internet and social media, as it’s easy for me to hide the fact that I flail my arms around uncontrollably, hide the fact that I’m not able to maintain eye contact or a consistent tone of voice with people that I’m speaking to, and hide the fact that I’m physically clumsy when I use Twitter and write blog posts. In fact, I’ve come to know about a few people who I interact with on Twitter who have been incredibly kind towards me, even though I’ve never met any of them in person.
For some people with developmental disorders like autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and other autism spectrum disorders, the internet and social media can be a lifeline and a place where they can interact more normally with others.