About autistic teenagers and the internet Hi everyone, I read a lot of posts here lately that were discussing problems surrounding technology usage, phone usage, screen time and similar topics. I want to share my perspective on that, since technology is my special interest and naturally, this caused very similar issues and insecurities when I grew up. One thing to mention in advance, I was only diagnosed as a young adult, so my parents were completely unaware of autism during the time I grew up. Basically, as a young child (let's say around 8), the two things I was interested in were legos and computer games. I haven't had many friends, but the one friend I had shared those two interests. It also started to show at that age that I was working with computers in a very intuitive way and my parents already sensed that this was a very strong interest of mine. During that time, my parents were making sure I don't spend too much time in front of the computer, however, we never had a strict "hour limit" since my mom had already realized then that this isn't a very intuitive approach for a child. My parents also got involved - for example, there was a racing game my dad and I would play together, so the rule wasn't "five more minutes" which would interrupt in the middle of the game, but rather "one more race" which went way more peaceful and didn't cause many problems usually. Later, around age 12, legos became less interesting, the computer took over. My friend also lost his interest in legos, and developed new interests that I didn't share, so spending time with friends wasn't an option anymore, either. I was doing more things on the computer on my own, so it was less likely to "naturally" interrupt that. But my parents thought that my screen time was getting too much, and tried to restrict that. However, even though I was cooperative with trying new things and my parents had me try many things, from painting with my sister over some types of sports to learning an instrument. But as it is with special interests, they tend to be both intense and isolated, so nothing worked. One day then, when my mom told me to get off the computer, I kept standing next to her, kept asking her what I was supposed to do now and when we found nothing, she realized she was on the wrong path, so we needed different rules. Unlimited screentime, but under conditions: Homework and learning for tests must be done first, grades in school must be okay, and when it's time to sleep, I'm in bed and not in front of the computer. At age 14, it was time for the next school. My country offers a type of higher education that combines classical topics with a specialization, that can include things from engineering over hotel-economy and restaurant business over to - in my case - computer science, and goes from 14 to 19 (after which the next step would be university). My parents became more encouraged when the school informed parents that lifting any time restrictions on computer usage was a good idea. The curricilum included everything from programming over databases and networking all the way to technical informatics. All those subjects require a lot of practice and they saw a strong tendency that kids not getting that practice would fail. I had a huge advantage over my colleagues. I've spend the 1 or 2 years before that in front of a computer for the most part. I was the only one who could already program a little, given that next to video games, I used a lot of time learning about my special interest through YouTube and other sources (especially after I got unlimited screen time. Before that, I would naturally use the limited time I had for what was most fun - video games). I made those 5 years of education with ease. Always had top grades, because I just know my craft and learned really easily about everything surrounding it. I even got a special honors think at graduation since I was one of the 3 best students of my year. Socially, those years weren't too easy. I still had issues connecting to people. Even though I was in "nerd school", most people liked to spend their time on parties and things like that, which I just really wasn't into. Even in computer science school, I was the boring nerd who was a great utility to ask questions about anything school-related, but just not fun to hang out with. I did, however, have friends online. The internet helped me connect to people who were way more like me. Instead of being limited to connecting to the people in my surroundings and having no social life at all because they just didn't fit as "compatible" friends, I managed to find people I would talk to and have a good time with every single evening over years - most of them, I've even met at some point. My best friend of that time was even living closeby - we still did most things online because it was just more convenient, we met a weekend about every 2 or 3 months together where we would also bring our computers and just have a good time playing games, ordering pizza and having a good time. Things started to become difficult when our group was growing, but that's a story for a different day. When I got diagnosed, my parents started questioning many things about my upbringing. We discussed a lot of them with psychologists. While there would've been many things that had made things easier or better for me, two independent psychologists confirmed that giving me that freedom and access to technology is very likely what kept me somewhat stable during my youth. One fact about humans is that we just don't connect to anyone. For autistic people, that is even more restricted and because of that, sometimes, there just isn't anyone around in school or other closeby places who is a good fit. The same way, I met my boyfriend online. While healthy friendships require a good fit to be healthy and stable, that's even more true for relationships - which, in turn, makes it even less likely to meet the right person closeby. When your kid's only social interaction is online, be happy that there *is* social interaction. Restricting that or even taking that away won't magically make anyone connect to incompatible people suddenly. It will just destroy the friendship that your kid had such a hard time building up in the first place. Make sure your kids learn how to use the internet safely. Make sure your kids learn to handle technology in a healthy, non-addictive way. Addiction is not when you do something a lot because you like it, addiction is when you can't stop and it becomes an issue for other aspects of your life. For example, when your kid keeps up all night being distracted by the smartphone, do something about it. But that's not a question about "all or nothing". Instead of completely taking their phone away, just restrict it when it's bed time - and try to let them have it again when they become a bit older and more responsible. If they never learned how to utilize technology in a healthy way, they won't magically be able to as adults. That's my appeal to everyone who is currently having the same insecurities my parents had. Thanks to everyone who read through this very long post, feel free to tell me whether that perspective was helpful or if you have any questions.
Posted by Grayscale at 2023-02-24 09:19:05 UTC