How can I help an autistic guy navigate "Facebook friends"?
July 2, 2010 12:46 PM Subscribe
My brother, who is a young adult with autism and other mental disabilities, got himself banned from Facebook because he was bugging "friends" of his friends. I need help explaining the unwritten rules of social networking, and creating some basic guidelines for him to follow when he tries Facebook again. (Much more inside.)
My brother his high-functioning and able to live on his own with assistance only in budgeting and that sort of thing. He has a full-time job that he likes, and hobbies he enjoys. If not for his other mental disabilities (ADHD, learning disabilities), he would probably be considered Asberger's or close to that end of the spectrum -- he's actually quite outgoing and enjoys being social one on one or in small groups. However, his emotional development and social skills level are probably closer to an early teen's than a twentysomethings, and are where his autism shows most. He doesn't understand the nuances of interpersonal relations, misses nonverbal cues and isn't aware of how others perceive him or react to his idiosyncrasies.
Because of his disabilities, he has some trouble making friends. He's very sweet, but can get very repetitive in conversation. There are a couple topics that he'll talk about for hours, but he's willing to talk about other things too -- just not as easily. His reading and writing skills are poor, so he has trouble expressing himself clearly in print. Despite this, he loved to use Facebook to keep in touch with people. He even created his own group to talk about food, a topic I didn't even know he was interested in. He was trying to use Facebook as a way to expand his social circle.
Unfortunately, the the broad definition of the word "friend" on Facebook got him in trouble. Despite repeated explanations, he didn't understand that the people listed as "friends" weren't always someone close -- they could be just an acquaintance or someone from high school that his friends don't actually talk to anymore. All he could see was that his friends had other friends, and he tried to meet some of them -- which he did by repeatedly messaging them and in some cases calling them if their phone number was listed, whether he'd met them in person or not.
A complicating factor is that in addition to wanting more friends in general, I'm pretty sure he wants a girlfriend. He won't admit it to me, but it's pretty clear from his status updates and the messages he was sending to the friends-of-friends and former classmates he was contacting -- who were almost exclusively female. (Not to mention all the sketchy dating sites he keeps joining.) No doubt enough of them saw his poorly written messages as harassment and reported him, leading to his banination.
I really want to help him get back on Facebook -- it's a valuable way to keep him connected to friends and family. But I need help developing some guidelines for him to make sure he doesn't get himself kicked off again.
• How can I explain the vagaries of "Facebook friend"?
• What points should I lay out to help him determine when it's OK to contact a person?
• How can I explain to him how to get to know an acquaintance or a friend of a friend better without scaring them or seeming like he's harassing them? (Which I recognize is a much larger issue than just Facebook.)
Your advice and any resources, online or off, are greatly appreciated.