Online Spaces and Autism
If you do not see the podcast player, click here to listen.
When Covid-19 brought many social interactions and education online, some people wished to return to face-to-face settings because they found online spaces to be frustrating and missed in-person human interaction. While this may have been the case for some in the neurotypical community, in some ways, people within the neurodivergent community seemed to thrive. It is thought that through online spaces, autistic people are able to carry on more enriching social interactions and engage in education more deeply due to lack of potential sensory overwhelm, and it offers more comfort and flexibility (Raut, 2021).
Online communication and social interaction provides opportunities for people with autism to engage with others in more comfortable and less threatening environments. For example, Ringland (2019) states, “for autistic children, playing with other children in the physical world may be uncomfortable or even painful” (para. 1). And while the physical world may pose challenges for autistic people, there is still the desire among the community for engagement among peers. Ringland (2019) states, “one way to help autistic children gain access to play and socialization is through online spaces, such as social media and virtual worlds” (para.1). In these online spaces, autistic people have the chance to thrive in social settings, participate in like-minded communities, and spend time with new-found friends. In fact, “communication and social interaction utilizing digital online platforms and spaces may provide such an environment, with a comfortable level of engagement that can be relatively controlled” (Leyman, 2022). Some autistic people are able to participate in online cosplay allowing for further positive, social interactions. “Most autistic people want to socialize — the problem is that social settings tend to be confusing, overwhelming and not very sensory-friendly. On social media, we can interact without the added stress of a chaotic environment” (Wayman, 2021). While online spaces for social relationships prove to be positive for people with autism, online education has its benefits, too.
Brick and mortar education may be potentially negative for autistic people due to negative social interactions and sensory overload. In online educational environments, people with autism have a space that allows for an increased sense of comfort, less potential for bullying and stressful social interactions, a deeper focus on education and learning, and learning time most appropriate to the student’s schedule (Raut, 2021). In these online environments, autistic people have a chance to succeed in educational and social settings without having the worries a brick and mortar setting may include. Online learning environments may also be designed synchronously or asynchronously to cater to specific learning needs of individuals which may also increase interest and motivation towards learning materials and tasks (Polat et al., 2022). Whether synchronous or asynchronous, online learning is adaptable and helpful for students on the autism spectrum leading to possibilities of student success.
While there are many benefits for autistic people in online educational spaces, disadvantages may include frustration due a potential lack of a learning schedule that one might have in an in-person learning environment (Raut, 2021). However, this disadvantage could be overcome with a solid time management plan, and the advantages seem to outweigh the negative aspects in terms of providing social interactions and comfort. Social spaces provide autistic people the chance to engage with others in less mentally harmful ways to them which allows for a more fulfilled social life. With adaptive synchronous and asynchronous learning , increased comfort in social interactions, and more flexibility for time management, online learning may potentially be the best choice for people with autism.
Leyman, A. (2021, October 22). Use of digital platforms by autistic children and young people for creative dress-up play (cosplay) to facilitate and support social interaction. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666378322000149
Polat, H., Taslibeyazt, E., & Kayalark, M. T. (2022). A systematic review of studies on online education for autism spectrum disorder. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education (TOJDE), 23(3), 49–67. https://doi-org.libauth.purdueglobal.edu/10.17718/tojde.1137184.
Raut, P. (2021, September 16). Virtual learning and its pros and cons for autistic atudents. Otsimo. https://otsimo.com/en/what-is-virtual-learning/
Ringland, K.E. (2019). A place to play: The (dis)abled embodied experience for autistic children in online spaces. Proceedings of the Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction Conference of Human Factor Computing System.
Wayman, L. (2021, June 21). Social media offers benefits for autistic community. https://www.autismspeaks.org/science-news/social-media-offers-benefits-autistic-community