Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Aspies, Autists and the Internet

I received my first Internet account 17 years ago today.

Ah, yes, the Internet.

Back when spam was only a food, back when anything in your emailbox was probably something for you personally. Back before blogs, before the World Wide Web, before even gopher (a menu-driven system for looking up information; gopher sites did not connect to one another and websites do, which is why it was never called the World Wide Gopher).

Back then, if you wanted to make files available to people, you had to put them in a special directory, and the seeker would use "anonymous ftp" (File Transfer Protocol) to download them. (It would ask for a password, and the recipient was expected to give his/her email address.)

Back then, we had Usenet - a set of protocols among independent sites to agree to set aside space for specific forums. Anyone could post to them - without even putting fake characters in our email addresses! (Like I said, back then spam was a food.)

Back then, the general public had yet to hear of "The 'Net". Most people with Internet accounts were students and professors of Computer Science, Computer Engineering and similar fields, and computer programmers, engineers and the like. Not every student could just walk into an office and get an Internet account - that would have to wait another couple of years.

(Tracy Holt at George Mason University, thank you wherever you are.)

The first thing I did with my Internet account? Play games online. Specifically, play MUDs (Multiple User Dimensions, or Multiple User Dungeons). Those are text adventure games, loosely based on Dungeons & Dragons. As in "Wield sword," "wear armor," "kill troll," "take all from corpse" and so on.

It was more than a game for me. It was a social lifeline.

Finally, after 22 years, I found an arena in which I could relate to people, where I could organize my thoughts before presenting them and where my writing skills would be an advantage. I found friends and even romantic interests that way. (Yes, more than a few people have married IRL - "In Real Life" - after meeting on a MUD.)

I might add that I also met many people in computer labs, including several women I've dated - including Emily - and a few friends with whom I keep up to this day. Computer labs are good places for technically literate people to socialize face to face.

MUDding can be addictive. Not for nothing is it also called the "Merciless Undergraduate Destroyer". I spent long hours on it at first, precisely because I was having great difficulty in graduate school. I found a sense of achievement, and friends I could turn to. Also, I used email and Usenet to great advantage socially, in much the same ways.

The Internet may actually have saved my sanity. Pretty good payoff for a little bit of computer time, I'd say.

I tapered off MUDding as my social and other competencies improved. Still, I use the Internet on a daily basis, and I can't imagine a social life without it.

Anyway, the Internet is a great place for Aspies and autists. We can connect with like-minded people, and meet potential friends and lovers anywhere - and not just on dating sites, either.

Use it, don't abuse it!

What do you think?


Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

Hi Jeff,

Yes, Nigel absolutely loves the Internet. He is not yet interacting with others, but he could spend the entire day Googling, Wiki-ing, and YouTubing everything if I let him. I'm sure as he gets older he will find it to be an ideal way to socialize, as you described it has been for you. It is for me, too!

StatMom said...

Do you remember or did you play text adventures? I lost incredible amounts of time on that!

For the past ten years, the internet has been a social lifeline for me, as well as an amazing source of information. I love having the answers to almost anything right at my fingertips. Of course, it now comes at a price, with all of the spam, identity theft, and random creeps out in cyberworld, but I love the internet. Maybe too much lol I think it is a huge positive for aspies and autists to aid social communication.

Tanya @ said...

Hi again Jeff,

Just stopping by today to let you know that I've tagged you with a blog award over at my site!

Best wishes,

Casdok said...

And a great way for us parents to learn more about autism and connect with other parents who can be isolated.

Marla said...

I see statmom's comment. I remember playing computer games where it was nothing but story text. I loved those games.

This is my first visit to your blog. Can't wait to read more!

Jeff Deutsch said...


Tanya - Nigel should know that YouTube includes message functions, and pages for individual users. He can get to know others and vice versa that way - especially if he comments on others' videos or posts one of his own.

Google is a good way (among many) to find other people who share appropriate interests. Wiki-ing is a good cooperative activity.

StatMom and Marla - Yep, as I said I played text adventures/MUDs.

Casdok - Yes, the Internet is a great networking environment for us.

Tanya - Also thank you for the award. I'm now mulling over meritorious recipients.


Jeff Deutsch

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, the internet is a great tool for Aspies and Autistics. They can communicate at their own pace without the pressure of having to read the non-verbal qeues. And for teens (with lots of supervision of course) it is a great way to find people to talk to about their very specific interests.

kia (good enough mama) said...

As someone who met her spouse online (aol chatrooms aren't fully populated by psychos after all - who knew?!), I have to totally agree. You can meet so many more people this way and as long as you're careful, you can gain many real-life friends. I've done it. I know this is true. :)

ESpunge2008 said...

I agree the internet has been an extraordinary tool. The sad thing is the abuse of the internet by a few malicious people which causes every other internet user, Aspie or not, to pay a hefty price.

For example, when I first used a modem it was Prodigy which preceded AOL. We all had a code email instead of an email address such as "".

One of my favorite things as a 14 year old was send a random email to a person who lived in Barrow, Alaska. It turned out he lived in the Northernmost community on the entire continent and we discussed how often the wind breaks the ice in summertime.

Keep in mind I was 14 and all these adults were having intellectual discussions with me and I had not that many friends at school. At the time, this was no big deal. Everybody treated me nicely.

When I got older, I chatted with people all ages. When I was 19, I had friends as old as 65 and as young as 14, a girl who lived in Melbourne Australia who was a Jewish Australian immigrant from the same town my grandparents immigrated. People all ages were regarded friends/penpals and age was just a number.

Then sometime in the most recent 5-10 years perhaps, these horrific news stories surfaced of online predators and then you had undercover police posing as minors to capture online offenders. This means a person with similarities to me who was too young, was someone who just chatting with could get me in big trouble if even one word typed seemed inappropriate text to send to a minor.

How did this affect me? Well I was a harmless lonely individual who liked having friends of all ages, and suddenly even the thought that I should engage in conversation with anyone under 18 would make people jump out of their seats. And if affects everybody because regardless of the fact I'm clearly no predator, there is the risk if I chat with anyone under age that I may end up being falsely accused, face a court that is far from impartial on the issue, and be convicted of a predatory crime I never committed

Because of Aspie factor,something I might say could be misinterpreted by non-Aspie investigators and that's all it takes to determine intent over a net. Such as how an Aspie may answer the question, "Do I look fat?" Responding, "Only in the butt area, but nowhere else." That's all it takes and you're charged with a lewd act, potentially subject to $50,000 bail and up to 5 years prison sentence. Knowing this, I will not bear the risk of maintaining friends without regard to age, as a shield of protection from being falsely accused and sentenced for something I didn't commit.

Sadly, a 14 year old kid the age I was when email was relatively new, will not have a person in BArrow Alaska to share stories with about ice and snow, in fear he/she will face potential consequences of extreme severity as a result of those predators who have strickened the laws on everyone else.

(I am from the dcaspie board, you know who I am. I changed a few screenname letters so my blog comment won't be google searchable, but yes this is Eric from the list.)

AWA Board Member & Midwest Regional Director, USA ****** said...

As an Apie, I feel the internet has been a lifeline to me. I have learned to develop many social skills through my use of technology. My 15 yr old Aspie son is very active on the computer as well. I have very strict guidelines for his usage & I do have parental controls in place; and I have been pleased with his progress via the internet as well!

SavedAspie said...

Hi. The internet is an excellent area in which to begin honing our relationship skills. While nothing substuties for face to face practice, the internet is a great "bunny slope." You can join an almost infinite number of groups and participate and watch peoples reactions. You can learn how to be more gentle with what you say so as not to offend, and you can learn how to not take it personally when someone (who's just plain mean) flames you for no good reason.

On an unrelated note, I think eric's comment about how an Aspie may answer the question, "Do I look fat?" Responding, "Only in the butt area, but nowhere else." will make an excellent topic of discussion in and of itself. In fact, I may just go type one up on my blog :P-)

Jeff Deutsch said...

Hello SavedAspie,

You might also check out my subsequent post, in which I had to answer that question on the fly with a heckuva lot at stake.

I do think I handled it well, if I may say so myself. Of course, you can be the judge of that.


Jeff Deutsch