Does Technology Make Us ‘More Autistic’?

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I have wondered this for a while, and want to pose this question to families on the Spectrum: do any of your other (neurotypical) children display some autistic-like, or Asperger-like behavior? With the onset of the Internet, mobile devices, texting and social media, it seems that this generation’s teens, tweens and to a lesser extent, children have less, and crave less face-to-face interaction with their peers.  Some will, in fact, go out of their way to avoid personal interaction. 

Like most parents, we grew up with friends that we went to school with; we played both sports and games with them, and generally hung together as we made our way through middle school/junior high school, high school and beyond.  We shared interests and made interpersonal bonds because we knew no other way. 

The advent of technology has given our children the ability to communicated with someone thousands of miles away but in doing so, it robbed them of their social skills: speaking and writing to one another.  One of my teenaged son’s handwriting resembles that of a grade schooler, often printing rather than writing in script; even when prompted to write in script, the letters often resemble the capital letter/lower case letter alphabet banners that hung on top of classroom blackboards.  Now, this isn’t entirely of his own choosing; he happened to be in school as they too embraced technology, and began requiring work to be typed or printed.  Reading his handwritten prose reminds me of reading the words my autistic son worked on so hard to produce, often with hand-over-hand guidance to form individual letters, words, and eventually sentences. 

This post is really about how this generation’s adults-in-waiting have shied away from social interactions.  They know all their friends email addresses and Facebook statuses, and even have their cellphone numbers, if only to send text messages to each other.  A common conversation in my house goes like this:

     Me: Did you call Jeffrey to hang out?

     Son: He didn’t answer me.  I texted him an hour ago. 

     Me: Why didn’t you call his house? Maybe he doesn’t have his phone with him.

     Son: (no answer; tries texting again)

     Me: (walks away, shaking my head in disbelief)

Our children are well-versed in texting, and mastered that skill years before I did, even before we had QWERTY keyboards or touchscreens on our phones.  They seem content to ‘reach out and touch someone’ electronically, but balk at the notion of actually conversing.  Anecdotally, it seems that my sons are more apt to send text messages, or email someone, as compared to their female cousins or peers, who seem to take to video chat apps like Oovoo or Skype, much more readily.   

Yesterday we went out to a local restaurant to eat because the High School Music Dept. made an arrangement with the restaurant to donate 10% of each bill that was accompanied by a special flyer.  Good food, good cause, and the place should be filled with many friends and acquaintances.  After dining, we urged our sons to go say hello to their friends who were in the adjacent area/within viewing distance. 

“No.”  “I don’t want to.”  “I don’t have anything to say.”  were the responses we got from them, even after significant prodding and cajoling. 

Despite their (relative) social disinclination, they are capable of, if not accomplished at, expressing themselves, either through music or sports, with their peers; a manifestation of hours/days/weeks/years’ worth of repetitive movement that they convey to each other.  Even participation in a team sport or musical group can be broken down into how each individual child performed.   Someone could argue that savant-like behavior is also exhibited within the Spectrum. 

There have been many blog posts and articles similar to this one, positing that in some sense we are all ‘a little bit Autistic.” Maybe it’s because I’m hypersensitive to Autism issues.  Maybe it’s because I have three boys and Autism has a preponderance for affecting males.  Perhaps they are this generation’s nerds, who will go on to become the next Bill Gates or Sheldon Cooper

Perhaps they’re just average teenagers trying to make their way, just like we did decades ago.  Hopefully years from now, they will look at their children/our grandchildren and remark “back in my day…”

Does technology promote Autistic behavior? I’m not sold; it certainly can exaggerate some classic manifestations of Autism or Asperger’s.  Certain too is that technology will help the children on the Spectrum, and that we can’t go back in time; my autistic son can now spontaneously share his artwork with his grandmother via his iPad.   A small step in socialization but a step in the right direction nevertheless.  Technology is, and always will be the magnifying glass for our society: revealing things not previously seen, including ways to improve ourselves and our children.

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One thought on “Does Technology Make Us ‘More Autistic’?

    LettersHead said:
    05-30-2012 at 2:02 pm

    I have asked all of these questions and seen and heard almost exactly what you have – and it is as true of non-autistic kids as it is autistic kids. What I see as a detriment to the socialization of some kids is a boon for others, and I change my mind all the time about how I feel about it and what it means for the future. It’s a new landscape for everyone, I have decided, and we need to navigate it one hill and one valley at a time.

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