Sunday, April 18, 2010

Facebook & Friendship - One Aspie Gal's View from the Autism Spectrum

Hello Aspierations Blog visitors!

If you're visiting my blog for the first time, thanks for stopping by!  I welcome you to say hi in the comments section at the end.  Of course return visitors are welcome to share comments too!  I have it set up so if you want to be anonymous, that is fine.

It's over halfway through April and so far, I've kept my promise of blogging every day during Autism Awareness month.  My reasons for doing so were to show my support for the cause every day, to get used to a routine of  regular writing, to build up the Aspierations blog readership and to have the opportunity to meet and interact with others online.

Today my topic relates to friendship and Facebook, the online social networking utility that allows people to connect and keep in touch with friends, acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors and those who share special interests. 

Facebook was initially founded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 with his Harvard college roommates and fellow computer science students Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes.  According to a Wikipedia article I read earlier this evening, they currently have over 400 million active users worldwide. Wow!

I first joined Facebook in April 2008.  I didn't do much with it for the first few months but eventually I was intrigued to see if I could find people from my past online, so I went searching for old classmates and pretty soon, I had a dozen or so people that were on my Facebook friends list.  Over the past couple years, the number has fluctuated but as of April 18th, 2010, I currently have 144 people on my friends list.  (Some are family on John's side, some are Count Your Beans customers / doll friends, more on this number later...)

Let me say that although I may write candidly about my personal life here on my blog, in my private day-to-day life, I would be considered quiet, amiable and analytical.  My immediate family will see a humorous, playful and passionate side of me that most do not.  This is because I feel comfortable with them.

In truth, I've been a hermit the past 12 years.  If it weren't for my husband, I wouldn't have much in-person adult contact of any substance. When I used to bowl competitively back in the 80s and 90s, I had regular interaction with people I had built long-term relationships with so I was able to let my guard down and practice daily socialization.  I had people I could count on seeing on a regular basis and although we wouldn't get together at each other's homes or go out and socialize outside of the bowling centers, I felt a sense of belonging when I was bowling.  It was something I started when I was 3 and continued regularly until I was in my early 30s.  Since leaving the bowling world, I've admittedly been a recluse, focusing on family and business and not keeping in contact with many people from my past.  That is a blog for another day!

Since moving from California to Washington state, I've found it extremely difficult to try and make friends in person.  I don't have many people who I interact with on a regular basis other than my husband, John, my kids, my parents, occasionally extended family.  Of course, I smile and say hi when I see neighbors, I smile and say hello to others at church, I smile and greet other mothers and fathers when I see them at the playground or school with their kids.  It just doesn't seem to ever go any farther than that.  I'm not part of the Soccer Mom club or PTO and in the rare instances when a conversation ensues with a neighbor or another adult, I actively listen and try to follow all the appropriate social cues but the substance never seems to go beyond standard niceties. 

Admittedly, it gets pretty lonely.  That's why I have to say that I find some social solace in Facebook and I am so thankful that I have been able to use Facebook to reconnect with friends from my past.  Although I may not be getting a dose of social contact here in person, socializing a bit online through quick comments on people's Facebook pages is giving me practice and I think psychologically, it's giving me a bit of happiness too knowing that I am making connections. 

For example, when I logged onto Facebook last year on my birthday, there were a couple dozen birthday messages for me, more than I had ever received in one year in my life.  It felt good.  During other times in the past couple of years, I would post something quirky on my status and a couple people would respond with a comment of their own or with support.  When I shared pictures on my page, I knew I was helping to bridge the gap among family members that were often hard to communicate with.  Facebook has helped me keep in touch with people more frequently and in a way that is relatively non-threatening. 

Through Facebook I have been able to find best friends from elementary school.  This was a time in my life when I remember being happy.  Life seemed a whole lot simpler and although I was a tomboy out on the playground, I socialized with girls a whole lot better during that period of my life than any period since then. 

Is it correlated to my Asperger's Syndrome / Autism Spectrum Disorder that I have more friends at Facebook from elementary school than I do from junior high, high school and college combined?

If anyone out there on the spectrum or related to someone on the spectrum has personal insight or a story they'd like to share about this, I'd really appreciate hearing it!

Perhaps part of it is because kids tend to be more inclusive and accepting when they're young.  It is easier and more natural to just be yourself, throwing yourself out there as you are. 

Once adolescence and puberty hits, so many changes happen.  Fitting in becomes so much more important than it did in early grade school.  I remember in 7th and 8th grade starting to really become depressed because I felt so much like an outcast.  Most of my friends from earlier years had either moved away or had different special interests. The ones left seemed to start speaking a different language than I did, a language I would later call "societal norm".  (For more on this, please see my blog posting, "We Speak Different Languages - Come Visit My Planet Sometime")

By the time I hit high school, I was socially miserable.  Once I got into college, it was a whole different sort of adventure, one I was prepared for academically but not even close to being prepared for socially. (More on this in a future blog!)

I've noticed that since I turned 17, I have made very few new friends that were not male.  I made a lot of acquaintances, primarily through bowling but I can count on one hand the women that I have become friends with as an adult that I keep in touch with more than once every couple of years.  If it weren't for Facebook, I probably wouldn't even have that occasional contact, so again, I am thankful for this free social networking site that allows people to connect and reconnect.

I realize this blog is getting long and I have work yet to do with Count Your Beans so before I close, I do want to go back to observation I made earlier in the blog, because I think it's also important.

I stated that I currently have 144 Facebook friends.  As someone who has a tendency to look at things literally and logically, that number just seems amazingly inflated.  I place a VERY high value on friendship or perhaps I should say TRUE friendship and sometimes when I look at my Facebook "friends" number as well as that of others I know, it feels like I am devaluing the true meaning of friendship by having people on my "friends" list that I either know very casually, through business, through relationship to my husband or in some cases, I haven't really ever conversed with at all but we may belong to the same special interest group and when they sent a friend request, I said yes.  (That's not to say that I don't want to have these people on my friends list, it just means that I would call them acquaintances more than friends.  Sheesh!  I'm even focusing hard trying not to offend people that will never in a million years visit my blog anyway!  Silly? Welcome to my world!!)

On one hand, I look at and think, "cool, I have 144 people who have agreed to be connected with me on Facebook that I haven't yet scared away with my witticisms or lack thereof."  On the other hand, how many of those 144 Facebook friends have ever visited my Aspierations blog?  (I have a link to it on my profile page and it has been referenced a number of times, especially over the past month in my postings.)

How many of those 144 Facebook friends have been on a social outing with me and/or my family within the past 10 years?  Or ever?  How many of those people have I ever had a conversation with on the phone or ever received correspondence from in person, such as at Christmas time?  How many came to my wedding or would come to my funeral?  How many would notice if I even disappeared???

I know it goes both ways.  I need to reach out, be vulnerable and put myself out there.  Trust me, I do try and although my way through writing my seem unconventional, it's a step in what I hope is the right direction.  By doing my Aspierations blog over the past few months, those who have followed me consistently really know I have bared my soul on many occasions and talked about some very private, personal and embarrassing stuff.  If you're reading for the first time and you want to get to know the real me, read my past blog postings.  Some stuff is light and funny (hopefully) but there is a lot of heavy, deep and real in there too.  At the very least, you'll get a snapshot into the life of another human being. 

There are times when I've hoped that certain Facebook friends or family would have stopped by my blog, dropped me a line of support or placed a comment on one of postings.  A couple of John's family members have dropped me lines of support on early blogs and I appreciate it.  My parents have read my blog and have shared privately with me some of their thoughts and I appreciate that too.  Hopefully my family will keep coming back.

There are others that have said they've been to my blog or were going to "check it out" but I suspect for whatever reason never made it.  Maybe they were just trying to be nice.

Usually though, my posts go bare.... and it brings me back to thinking about whether any of those 144 out there will ever really want to get to know me beyond the social niceties of Facebook.  My Aspierations blog is my way of extending that invitation or at least reaching out to virtually shake your hand and say hi.... 

By the way, I am very pleased to say that through Google Friend Connect, there have been some people who have joined or subscribed to my blog postings.  That means a lot to me, thank you.  Whether you read once in a blue moon or regularly, I thank you for finding something interesting in my writing which made you want to connect with me here. 

I know that there are probably many others out there with Autism / Asperger's like myself that might have trouble initiating that contact and I totally get that and respect you and your right to privacy, however if you're ever interested in chatting more or connecting on Facebook, just let me know.  (I hope I worded that so it comes out friendly and not lame!)

I do think that Facebook provides great opportunities for those on the autism spectrum or those connected with others on the spectrum to interact with others and make social connections.  There are many support groups where you can become a fan and post or just lurk and read the discussion boards.  Truth be known, there seems to be a social interest group on Facebook for just about anything, so if you feel shy or socially awkward, it's a great place to check things out and dip your toe in the water before you dive right into the social pool.

For those of you who have commented on my blogs, you have made me smile! Your acknowledgement helps encourage me to keep on sharing even when I wonder if I still have the courage inside to keep doing so. Thanks! 

If we're not yet friends on Facebook, feel free to send a friend request to Karen Krejcha.  Please let me know in your request that you found me through my blog so I won't spend time racking my brain embarrassingly wondering if I am supposed to remember you from my past!  (I've been told it happens!!) 

Looking forward to your comments,
Karen

3 comments:

  1. Um, uh . . . hi, I am visiting your blog for the first time; I am http://twitter.com/neuroaster and I am also http://www.facebook.com/neuroaster #smilesandhugs

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  2. Great points about Facebook. My best friends today are really those whom I met in fifth grade. Even my wife was someone I met at school four years later (when I was 15). I've hardly made any real-life friends since.

    Strangely enough, I get a lot out of my Facebook friends. To me, many of these people I've never met are closer than relatives and colleagues whom I see frequently.

    As far as having them read your blog... Every blog post that I do from any of my blogs automatically re-posts itself on Twitter and Facebook. I just had to add a widget.

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  3. Thanks Jon and Gavin for your comments! I appreciate you stopping by my blog and welcome you as a friend on Facebook too!

    Gavin, I'll have to check into that widget so that it can post my blog to my twitter account.

    I'm not sure yet about posting my blog to my Facebook account since I have a lot of customers there and they might get confused since I run a business blog as well.

    Thanks again for the comments! It's really interesting to read your experiences as well!

    Karen

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