Computer-based messaging may help individuals with autism develop better relationships

The MIT publication Technology Review recently called attention to a new study that takes a novel approach to computer use for people with autism.

Traditionally, people with autism are thought to be loners who do not desire social connection. Many of the computer-based interventions for people with autism have sought to enhance communication skills that autistic individuals can use, in the words of one researcher, “in real life.”

But who is to say that computers are not part of real life? At least, that is the approach taken by the Dutch researchers who sought to study the computer-based communications of people with autism.

The results, according to the researchers, point to an idea that is gaining momentum — that autistic individuals are interested in developing social relationships, and that the digital world may be one place where they are able to do that effectively and fulfillingly.

The researchers compared the computer-based social lives of a group of autistic adults with a group of adults who were otherwise similar but who did not have autism. Among other findings, the researchers reported that individuals in the autistic group were more likely to have a broader and more active group of friends in their digital world.

Some of the advantages that helped autistic individuals in the study to conduct more and better social interactions over the computer were the ability to respond in a more self-determined timeframe and the lack of additional information to process, such as body language.

The writers at the Technology Review asserted that the Dutch study may lack broad scientific validity because of the size and type of population samples used. Nevertheless, the authors applauded the direction of the research and call for additional studies based on the idea that people with autism may desire higher levels of social interaction and a greater variety of relationships than are currently served.

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