I Learned Everything I Need to Know About Social Skills from the Internet

“Autistic kid doesn’t fit in at school and has no friends because he has no social skills” You’ve probably heard that story a million times, and most autistic people have probably lived it. And that’s exactly what most of my school life was like before I moved out to Arizona. I was the loud, obnoxious kid who had an aide shadowing him wherever he went, and sometimes I just kinda got really angry and started throwing chairs. Naturally, most people are not going to be around someone like that. I had maybe one or two friends, but they weren’t really friends. Just kinda people who my parents wanted me to hang out with, but we barely shared the same interests, so I lost interest in them quickly. I certainly didn’t play sports or do stuff like the Boy Scouts for very long (despite my parents’ best attempts). So what did I do then? No real friends, no real outside hobbies, no real interest in other people? I spent my time playing video games, and I went on the computer. At first I just used it to look up stuff I liked, the stuff that nobody but me actually cared about. I knew this because I had the universal autistic experience: infodumping about stuff only you care about, and when I’m finished talking, no response. By the time I got into middle school, I discovered the internet, with lots of websites with just as many people. And holy crap, a lot of those people were interested in the same weird, really niche things. Of course most of this was before Facebook and Twitter and Instagram (Remember, this was 2007), so most of my social interaction was on forums and of all things, Youtube comments. It was like this for a while, talking to people on random forums and in the comments of random, unrelated videos. It wasn’t much, but it was more consistent social interaction than I had at the time, even with the one or two friends I had. I spent most of my free time on the computer (First my mom’s and then my own), watching videos and talking to people about random things, and occasionally seeing my friends (When I had to!). But like most things, that all changed when I moved to Arizona in 2013. Once I moved, I soon found myself in an entirely new school, with a lot of new people, none of which I knew and even though I didn’t have an aide anymore, I was still that loud, annoying kid who never shut the hell up. So of course any attempts at making friends well…..crashed, burned, and blew up in my face all at the same time. Not fun for anyone really.

So, now with no friends at all and just kinda lonely and miserable, I began spending all of my free time on the internet, arguing with people on forums and still not really having any friends, just people I talked to in threads and such. But now there was a new factor at play: I finally got a smartphone…. around 5 years after everyone else did. So now I didn’t have to wait until I got home to talk to people online. Now I could do it anywhere and at any time I wanted. So now any time I wasn’t in class, I was on my phone fooling around, getting into arguments, and sometimes even just lurking forums.

And despite what some people may say (Like my dad before I convinced him), those people on the internet are still well, real people with real feelings and expectations of how they want to be treated and talked to and all that jazz. All those forums still had rules of what you could and couldn’t say, they still had people you had to answer to. Honestly, when you look at it, it’s kinda like high school in that regard. You also got the cliques, you got drama, you got the cool kids, you got the people nobody likes, you got all of that. And by hanging around there long enough, I started to get a feel for how this whole “talking to people” thing worked. And I was able to get a better feel for it there than I did by actually well…talking to real people. It also helped on the internet, that I didn’t have to sit there hoping and praying that we shared something, anything in common, nor did I have to actually arrange a time to go hang out or whatever. It was safe, it was easy, and it was obscenely convenient. Certainly much easier than making connections in “real” life.

Once I started figuring out the “rules” of social interaction (Because if there’s one thing we’re really good at, it’s figuring out rules), everything else began to fall into place. Soon, I was able to gasp, actually make friends not just online, but offline as well. Thanks to the internet, I’ve been blessed with lifelong friends, who I fully and completely trust, who I talk to well into the early hours of the morning (Much to the eternal frustration of my parents), and who I would go to the ends of the Earth for. Quite literally in fact, because this summer I’m actually going to meet up with some of them for the first time. And that’s not all, because I’ve also found a beautiful girl on the internet who I am deeply, deeply in love with, and who I am going to be visiting for the second time next month .As for what comes next, well stay tuned!