Red Shirt Guy- I salute you.
I have mentioned before that I am autistic. This is a part of who I am, the same way that being very pale, having blue eyes and liking shinies is a part of who I am. Today there is a “Communication Shutdown” day, where people taking part don’t use Facebook or Twitter for a day to try and understand the isolation and social difficulties that being autistic brings. The whole thing confuses me, as the social difficulties I have due to autism are much less apparent when I’m on the internet, and especially on social networking sites. I am not upset by the event, just think it’s missing the point a bit.
Before I discovered the internet (back in January 1997, so just around the massive boom in usage) I was very socially awkward, and found it very difficult to make friends. I spent most of my time reading, and playing in imaginary worlds in my head (mostly based off the books I’d been reading). By this point I was 10 years old, and had been aware that I was “different” for a couple of years… and so were everyone else in my class, which lead to bullying.
When we got the internet, I went into my first chatrooms, and suddenly I’d found an easy way to communicate. Text has always been easier for me to understand than speech (I was able to read before I was 2, and was never without a book), and here was a way for me to be on a level playing field with everyone else. I made friends with people from all over the world, of all different ages, and I could share with them my experiences, and talk about whatever I wanted to, without the worry that I’d be misunderstood or that I’d misunderstand what they were saying. I also found other people with my interests (books, science and maths at that point) and being able to discuss them without making people bored was amazing.
A few years later, I’d created my first websites (personal ones, and ones on Star Trek) and even started my own blog. I had lots of friends online that I spoke to through emails, chatrooms and instant messaging programs. I even had romantic relationships, based on common interests such as Star Trek (a massive obsession for about a decade, and still a big interest). It didn’t matter that I was awkward in real life, here I was able to talk, and relate to other people without the barriers that real life communication poses.
When it was first suggested that I could be on the autistic spectrum, I didn’t really believe it. I knew I was dyspraxic, but I was not like my sister Becca or my childhood friend D at all (the only people I knew in real life on the spectrum). I turned to the internet, and read the blogs and websites by autistic people, and discovered those who thought in a similar way to me, who had similar difficulties in reading people and not knowing the hidden social rules, who did things I did like repeating words over and over just because it felt and sounded good. I came to accept it, and finally was diagnosed when I was 21.
There are many good things that have come out of my diagnosis, a lot of them related to the internet. I discovered Second Life via the Autistics.org website, and met my husband on there (so much for “autistic people can’t marry”). I’ve made a lot of friends, both autistic and non-autistic. When I’m so overloaded I can’t speak, I use instant messenger programs and email to communicate. I have friends who are non-verbal, who use social networking sites in the same way that others do, to talk to other people.
There is the mistaken belief by some that autistic people (especially non-verbal autistics) cannot communicate. Everyone can communicate. The internet allows a large set of autistics to show that they can communicate, and have something to say. There are some autistics who cannot communicate by internet or speech, or other conventional methods, but even they can communicate in some way, though it may be hard for those around them to understand. When we speak, we want to be listened to.
As for the YouTube video? Apart from it being an excellent example of how autistic people can communicate (Red Shirt Guy has Asperger’s Syndrome- response video with that mentioned here), when I watched this during Blizzcon I thought this was the best question during the Quests and Lore Q&A (the audience liked it too). He’s now going to be in World of Warcraft itself, as the Wildhammer Fact Checker. Win.