Thursday, June 26, 2014

Friends: Are you Happy?

It's been almost two years since I ran this blog and I want to run it again to see what the opinion is now; are online friends real friends? As social media and the like increase will more people accept that online friends are real, or is this just fantasy? The post below is originally from 2012 hence why the time references are there, but the core concept remains the same...

One of the most frequently asked questions I get at presentations is this, "But, are you not lonely staying home on the weekends? Are you happy being alone?" Each person who asks this always seems concerned on whether or not their child is happy or feels isolated. Most of the times when I give my answer to them they understand a bit more so today I'll tell you what I tell them.

First, let me say I had a perfect weekend. I didn't leave the house and spent the weekend engrossed in either playing games, watching racing on television, or racing on iRacing. While I was technically "alone" for most of these events I wasn't as I spent most of the time talking to people over Xbox Live. I'd say over half the time when parents ask me if I'm happy and I explain that I have friends from all over they say, "Well, yeah, my son has that too, but is that enough? Are you happy?"

Am I happy? Friday afternoon I was at a red light and beside me was a car full of people around the age of 20 bobbing their heads to music and appearing to have a grand o' time. At that point in time my heart sank as I have never had anything like that. There I was, in my car, and I felt alone and isolated from the world. Later that evening however Rob and Travis came onto the Xbox and we had a great night of playing hockey on NHL 13.

So, does this make me happy? To me, it does. I may not be a head bobber at a red light with a group of people, but my social outlet is over the internet. Saturday and Sunday were spent much like Friday night and actually Sunday night might have been one of my favorite nights in a recent while as the quality of racing Travis and I had was second to none on iRacing as the photo shows as Travis pushed me to the win.

I always seem to get a mystified look when I explain this new age way of socializing because for most parents friends were a person that usually came over to visit. The internet has opened the doors for the ways we can socialize and for me it is easier to establish a friendship over the Xbox. Why? First, it's easier to find people that have the same interests. That means if, as in my case racing, one likes racing and they're playing a racing game chances are most people in that community of gamers knows about cars and racing. This creates a common ground. Secondly, and I won't elaborate on this post, the physical presence of a person has been taken out of the equation so there is no eye contact and no worrying about trying to analyze the facial expressions.

Now I do have to say this; yes, I am perfectly content/happy with this social life I have. For others though this environment can become too safe of a place. The research and opinions always seem to be different on if socializing this way is a good thing in the long run (I think it is, in moderation) and then how much is too much? For some it seems impossible to describe how talking to someone not in the same room is enjoyable at all and this is one of the hurdles some parents face; the way they had friends, in their mind, is the only way to have friends. I've heard so many times, "friends on the internet aren't friends at all." Clearly the definition of friendship is changing and for many of us on the autism spectrum our "friends" aren't on the same street as us, or perhaps state, or for me in the same country as I am. Does this lessen the fact that our conversations have meaning? Does this lessen the fact that, just because we don't go to a concert or a movie, a friendship is there? I cringe each time I hear, "online friends aren't real friends" because they are real. It's these relationships that kept me going all those dark years I had as it was my only social outlet. For others in the boat I was in it's their only one as well and I've heard parents say, "Well, we're thinking of taking it away because those people aren't real and my child just needs to get out there and make real friends." I will agree that there should be a mix, but at the same time if conversing with friends online is one's only social outlet then is it right to take this away? I will say this past weekend was amazing and if asked if I was happy then without question I would have to say, "most certainly!"


  1. I am not on the spectrum and I agree whole heartily with your feelings about online socialization.
    There was a time in my life when I was moving around a lot causing me to have few in person friends and my online friends allowed me to feel less alone because I always had someone to talk to. In fact, I made some very great friends over the internet from other parts of the world and I still have yet to "meet" them in person, yet, they are still important to me. I have "real friends" that do not understand this connection either and tell me they are not "real" friends. It annoys me really. I wish I had more time to spend online, because I used to have a blast talking to people online.

    Parents need to trust that if their child says they are happy, that they are happy, it has always bothered me when others try to tell others what will make them happy. If they seem happy they probably are, correct? If they are unhappy they will probably be doing something to let you know they are not happy?

    Do you think that parents in some cases, just have to let their child grow up and mature, but teach them good lessons along the way rather than try to dictate what they think is right?

  2. Sorry, but if you do not have a ASD,then what are you doing here? You need to chat to NT's(neurotypicals) This is like me asking you for advice, it wouldn't be worth my while or yours, as I am not an NT.
    Sorry, but I don't know what you are doing here.

    1. Why are you excluding people without ASD? Aren't they the people you would WANT here? I have Asperger's and I already know my own struggles. Aaron helps me defining them and have more insight in them, but there's a level of understanding I already have. NTs on the other hand can not just get the definitions and the insights, but also have a deeper level of understanding from Aaron's blog.
      Also, when an NT puts his/her thoughts on the whole thing in a comment, it helps me understand the way an NT thinks too. It works both ways. In this way we can take down this 'wall' bit by bit and come to understand one another.

      I'd like both NTs and ASDs reading this blog. In fact, I'd like for everyone to read this blog. The more people understand each other, the more people can learn to live in peace among each other in my opinion.
      Don't exclude people, but include them and help them understand.

  3. I can see both sides of the argument, to be honest.

    Before I started Facebook, all my genuine friendships are pretty much started off via face to face. However, as time evolved, a lot of my OT relationships are built via online first, especially majority of those from outside my OT school. So, the Internet has been a boon for me in the friendship department because I get to find out certain things about people that I wouldn't have found out otherwise.

    That said, offline relationships are also important because I had some instances where I knew somebody online on Twitter and then they blocked me once I made some social blunders there. However, if I get to see some of these people offline after we established some relationship online, the outcome might have been different on how they might have handled such social blunders I made online later.

    That said, if you meet someone offline and you don't seem to portray the same person that you are online, that can really hurt an online relationship, too. Moreover, news will then travel fast because the mutual friends you and that person have will then know about it.

    So my conclusion is, it depends on the type of relationships you want to build with people. Meeting someone offline can really enhance the relationships you built online, but also can hurt the relationships you built online. Switching onto my OT me for a second, that's the reason why offline skills are so important for individuals with autism to work on if they ever meet someone they know online (knowingly or unknowingly).