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Autistic individuals sometimes spend very large amounts of time in front of computers or on the Internet. There are advantages and drawbacks to this.

Advantages

  • People who cannot easily communicate or interact offline can develop relationships online. They can form tightly-knit support networks that lift their spirits and help them through difficulty.
  • The internet enables autistic to people to meet other disabled people, who can offer tips and encouragement. Autistic people may feel much less alone when they know other people like them.
  • Many autistic community members (like realsocialskills) teach things such as self-advocacy, executive function, coping with sensory overload, and general social skills. Autistic internet users can learn from this, and they may be able to help other autistic people too.
  • If autistic people share their skills online (such as writing, artwork, or helping others), they can feel competent and helpful.
  • People can do useful work, paid or unpaid, that makes them feel helpful. An example is managing or editing wikis constructively.
  • The internet can allow autistic people to contribute to the world in a way that best suits their skills and differences.

Disadvantages

  • If too much time is spent online, face-to-face social skills can suffer from disuse.
  • It is also important to develop quality in-person relationships (if possible) among family and/or peers. Too much computer time can make offline relationships fade.
  • If too much of the day is consumed by screen time, autistic people may not develop other important skills, such as motor skills.
  • Exercise and time spent outdoors are also important parts of life.

Recommendations

People should ensure that time spent in front of a computer is balanced by time spent interacting with people face to face offline. These could be family members, friends, acquaintances, or club members.

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable as their brains are still maturing and developing. The present generation is the first generation of teenagers who have been able to spend long time periods online. We will not know what the long term effects may be until these teenagers reach about 25. Parents should ensure that children and younger teenagers spend time meeting others face to face as well as using computers. Parents should look for clubs and societies where their children will enjoy what is going on. Teens and adults should look for places to meet other people, perhaps ask for help in finding such places as should adults.

It is important to note that other autistic people also exist outside the internet. Autistic people can meet other autistics face-to-face in disability-related clubs and organizations, where mentoring and skill training can also be available.

Autistic people need not feel guilty about screen time; they are simply encouraged to experience it as part of a balanced lifestyle.

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