Why I quit facebook

30 December 2014

Dear friend,

It is New Year, a time when we begin to reflect on our successes and make resolutions for the future or so the media likes to tell us. Television programs discuss the year, adverts look back, sports programs celebrate the best of and now I see Facebook has joined in on the action with their “It’s been a great year!”

For some people looking back on their year can be really painful(sadly a fact that FB failed to notice in their computer generated universe) and some people are glad to put a year behind them because of personal struggles and begin anew. I am not one for looking back as I believe that the past is the past we should learn from it and move on. I also have a really, really bad memory! I do however, have a new years resolution; I am going to quit FB.

This is going to be difficult. I am certainly not jumping on the I hate FB bandwagon that has started recently e.g. Washington Post article. I love FB and agree wholeheartedly with its mission. “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. … to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” As an expat I love the way that FB has enabled me to stay connected with my friends and family.

This week, I saw myself from another perspective and I didn’t like it! My child asked me a question and I answered him from behind my phone; I didn’t put it down/switch it off/move it to the side, I kept reading, I made no eye contact. Is my obsession with social media affecting my ability to communicate?

In the seventies Dr Lorna Wing and Dr Judith Gould introduced the triad of impairments for children with autism:

social interaction (difficulty with social relationships, for example appearing aloof and indifferent to other people)

social communication (difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication, for example not fully understanding the meaning of common gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice)

social imagination (difficulty in the development of interpersonal play and imagination, for example having a limited range of imaginative activities, possibly copied and pursued rigidly and repetitively). The National Autistic Society.

Can the triad of impairments be applied to social media communications today?

Social interaction: Through social media I am able to interact with my friends. I love the group messenger function that makes it really easy to plan ‘get togethers’ when I am returning to the UK or to share information. However, It has also made me a lazy friend (I should be having more real interactions) and enabled me to ignore relationships that I find difficult or challenging. It has allowed me to continue superficial friendships.

Social imagination: I believe that social media displays our lack of imagination as practically the same photo/experience is repeated on our news feeds; the first day at school photos, the I am proud of their parents evening report statements, the look at us at the cinema/zoo/beach photos that are the staple of most news feeds. Don’t get me wrong I love watching my friends happy, relaxed and having fun. But I am also aware that people only show us what they want us to see. I do not know the real story behind the artificial version.

Social communication: The obsession with checking our news feed can not be classed as real communication. I love it when people comment on my photos/statements but I would also argue that many of these comments are artificial communications and often completed out of boredom, rather than interest, a need to communicate to avoid our loneliness. I am becoming increasingly aware that checking communication in my artificial world is taking more and more of my time and actually reducing the number of real communications I am making e.g. checking my news feed at lunch rather that chatting with my colleagues.

Technology has changed the world tremendously since the seventies, but what affect has this had on our social development? Does the rapid increase in autism have any correlation with our dependence on technology and social media? Are we forgetting how to communicate?

This year, my friends, I vow to be a better real friend rather than an artificial version. I vow to Skype more and call you out of the blue for a chat. I will meet you for coffee instead of chatting on-line.
I want to know your real story not the FB version.

Happy New year!

Do autistic children really lack empathy?

20 December 2014

Dear Friend,

It is interesting that in Holland there is no direct translation for the word empathy. The concept/idea does not exist. Sympathy yes but not empathy. So what is the difference between sympathy and empathy and do autistic children have the ability to sympathise or empathise? 

Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably.  Empathy refers to the understanding and sharing of a specific emotional state with another person. Sympathy does not require the sharing of the same emotional state. Instead, sympathy is a concern for the well-being of another. (Wikipedia.)

We have been told and have read many times that autistic children lack empathy. This thinking stems back to the Sally Anne test by Simon Baron-Cohen whose research data purported to indicate a lack of theory of mind in autistic children. I have always struggled with this idea as from an early age the big lad certainly displayed sympathy. He would cuddle me when I was upset and was very caring towards friends who had fallen or who cried, often crying too. It was almost as though he felt their emotions too much. 

As a child, at Christmas time we were encouraged to sort through our toys and anything that we had grown too old for, or tired of, we donated to a local charity, a children's home. I wanted to carry on this tradition and encouraged the big lad to do the same. I showed him a website from a local charity which supports Romanian orphans. He was inconsolable! He asks us to turn off adverts by charity organisations and for a while we couldn't watch the news because it upset him so much he couldn't sleep. 

In December, we went to Cologne to the Christmas markets. Big lad laughed at a man sleeping in a doorway so I explained that the man was homeless. The big lad got really upset and said, why do you have to tell me  these things my head can't cope with it! 

Is he sympathising or does his depth of emotion demonstrate empathy?

I don't know!

But it is reassuring to see that other people are also wrestling with this issue.
Far from him being the unfeeling rather robotic child we read about his problem appears to be that he feels only extremes of emotion and doesn't really have an emotional thermometer. 

The following article addresses these issues well and is great to have the perspective of autistic people.

“A ground-breaking theory suggests people with autism-spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s do not lack empathy – rather, they feel others’ emotions too intensely.

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