When you look at the title to this post do you read it to mean – Hugging Emma, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and Other Joys?
(If you answered yes, you are correct. ((((Insert name)))) = Hugging. The more parentheses, the bigger the hug.)
Within the autism community where Facebook reigns as the ultimate gathering place, the use of emoticons, ways of expressing emotions and physical actions, are commonplace. I would argue that within the autism community the use of emoticons is more prevalent than within the neuromajority population. But I need verification from my Autistic friends before I make such a statement. It’s a thought based on my observations and interactions. Which, by the way, speaks as much against Simon Baron-Cohen‘s various theories about Autists lacking empathy and a desire for interactions as it does to the level of support, gestures of kindness and friendships that are developed and maintained over the internet. (I just submitted an amended version of my recent post – An Empathic Debunking of the Theory of Mind – to Huffington Post so he’s very much on my mind these days. I’ll give an update when I see if and when it’s been published over there.)
Facebook, a crowded virtual space where conversations overlap, people you’ve never met interject themselves into a conversation before moving on, friendships are formed, rekindled and developed, strangers “poke” you to say hi, even if the only connection you have is that you both occupy space in that crazy mosh pit that Facebook single-handedly created. If you think about it in these terms, Linkedin has a more conservative, suit and tie required at the door feel to it, I haven’t figured out where twitter falls in all of this, maybe it’s akin to speed dating, while blogs are the mothership, making the insanity over at Facebook all the more raucous and surprising.
It must be said, I hated Facebook when it began. I refused to join, I felt indignant when people would discuss their “friends” or about something that had gone “viral.” Who cares? Who has the time? I scoffed. This is just a bunch of people with way too much time on their hands. And then I would settle back to my tenth game of Spider, while reminding myself that I really should get some sleep. But eventually I joined. For business reasons, I told myself. This is a pattern for me. I observe, remain on the side lines, dip a toe in the murky waters, sit back, observe some more and then dive head first into the deep end, blissfully unaware of any rocks that may lurk under the surface. I’m not encouraging this approach, it’s just an honest assessment of what I have a tendency to do.
Yesterday I was a mess. For those of you who reached out, thank you. I was teetering on the edge, trying to keep it together, not doing a great job, but doing my best to work, taking on one small task at a time. And then my friend stepped in and held out her virtual hand. (((((( Insert Name )))))) Like a life line, she held her hand out and gently pulled me off the ledge. Lots of emoticons were used. I’m not fluent in emoticon, but she’s been a kind and patient teacher. Did I mention she’s Autistic, not that it matters, except that it does, if only for this reason: Autistics aren’t suppose to be like that. That’s what we neurotypicals are taught. Right? It’s what all those autism specialists tell us, right?
She sat with me, literally, while I wept. ((((((((((Insert my friend’s name))))))))) She said all the right things and by the time we both went back to work, I was laughing. But wait, that can’t be right. She must not be autistic, because she doesn’t fit the mold. Right? Isn’t that what we do when someone defies a stereotype, instead of re-examining the stereotype, we relabel the person? Can we all agree to toss this insane theory about Autists lacking empathy, lacking a desire for interaction and friendship? Can we please just stop it? Imagine if you tried to reach out to someone, only to have them reject you because of some mistaken idea they had about who you are and how you are supposed to behave?
Which brings me back to Emma. My beautiful daughter. I don’t know if she’s already aware of these stereotypes and how they apply to her. My guess is, she is. It’s one of the many things I wish I could control and change. But I cannot. What I can do is make sure she knows that I am here, supporting her, encouraging her, with my arms open for those times when she needs to feel them wrapped around her securely in loving embrace, just as my friend did to me yesterday.