Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. I hope you’re all well. Before I get into the main part of this week’s blog, I have several pieces of good news on the personal front. First of all, I’m covid-free, and feeling much better. I’ve finally stopped coughing all the time, and I’m not seeing any lingering symptoms. I’m one of the lucky ones. Let’s not forget those who have died, especially those that were let down by incompetent government response to the pandemic. And of course, many people continue to suffer long covid, and new infections continue to rise.
My next bit of news is that I have had a change of department in my day job. This has been a long time coming, and I’m so happy about going into an environment that is more autism-friendly. I’m really going to miss the people I worked with on my old department but, on the upside, my new colleagues are brilliant and I feel like I’ve more or less settled in straight away.
Now for the really big news: I have had an offer accepted for a house! Regular readers will remember that I’ve been searching high and low for a new home after selling my house last year when my marriage broke down and living in a rented flat ever since. Well, I’m delighted I’ve had an offer accepted on this new house, and although there are still plenty of hoops to jump through in terms of mortgage, survey, etc, I’m feeling quietly confident.
Yesterday, my son and I went to see the new Thor movie, Love and Thunder. Don’t worry – I’m not giving away any spoilers. But I will say this – I was disappointed. As you might already know, I have great affinity with the superhero genre, with my special love going to the Marvel comics of the sixties and seventies. I think the MCU franchise has been a bit patchy in quality, but this latest offering was a low point, for many reasons. It’s not the worst MCU movie, but I think you’ll enjoy it more if you go in with low expectations. Maybe I’ll do a proper review in a few weeks, when more people have seen it. Anyway, on with the autism content…
When you first approach social media as an autistic person with the intention of joining in with the online autistic community, it can be daunting. Some people take tentative first steps, putting just their metaphorical left hand in and out, then their right hand in and out, but all too often, they exit altogether without completing the social media hokey cokey, because they don’t feel welcome. But other people put their left hand in, their left hand out, in, out, and before long, they’re putting their whole selves in, hokey cokeying around autistic social media like they’ve been doing it all their lives. Some people never put their whole selves in, never feel like they can, and end up leaving these areas of social media which, for many, are the only places they can interact with their autistic peers. I think of it as a hokey cokey because at some stage on autistic social media, you have to find a way to get your whole self in, or you’ll feel like your whole self is out. Yes, I’m talking about cliques on autistic social media.
I felt uncomfortable approaching this subject, as it really is a minefield and people could easily get offended. So, let me make myself clear: I am not targeting any particular individuals or groups with the points I make; I am targeting a trend, and I am really trying to be constructive. I’m concerned that within autistic areas of social media, some autistic people feel they are being out-grouped. First off, I should say I do not personally feel I’ve been out-grouped. This is not about me. In fact, I’ve been in-grouped in ways I’m only just starting to understand. Secondly, I think a lot of the out-grouping is unintentional, and it’s important to remember that.
The issue is this: Any method of grouping people together inevitably results in an out-group. This is unavoidable, and doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem. For a silly example, if we identify a group of people who like football, this creates an out-group consisting of people who don’t like football. Not a problem; some people like football, some people don’t.
The problem comes when you try to identify a group of people, and then create a group that does not include all the relevant people. Example: a workplace creates a Facebook group for its employees, but only adds male employees to the group. This out-groups all female and non-binary workers, and would quite rightly cause outrage. This kind of outgrouping is happening to autistic people in online locations that purport to be for autistic people. Often the intention of the grouping is benign; there is talk of curated content, for example. But I see tweets and posts from autistic people looking to be part of the online autistic community who feel left out, ignored, and marginalised. It’s having a horrible effect on some people. And the thing is, social media outlets have content filters that making grouping totally unnecessary. For example, on Twitter, you don’t even need to bother with hashtags, you can just search for keywords for whatever content you like, and you can mute unwelcome content.
Various social media outlets have tools that can be abused. I remember getting Facebook notifications that I had been added to groups that I knew nothing about. It was annoying and creepy. Twitter lists are also potentially creepy if abused, as anyone can add you to a list without your permission, and to get off the list, you have to block the host of the list, which seems an odd way to go about things. But it’s the reverse side of groups and lists that are most problematic: For many people, getting added isn’t the problem – it’s more a case of not being added. It’s about being out-grouped.
But like I said, the intention of grouping or listing is often benign, so I don’t want to call people out, or anything like that. I just think that as a social minority, we autistic people don’t need to ringfence ourselves into even smaller cliques and thereby alienate each other. I’ve been added to lists on Twitter without being asked, and when I checked those lists before writing this article, I found they did seem to have some relevance – most of them were to do with autism content, with a couple of others to do with writing and blogging. Fair enough. But I don’t use the lists in any way. Like probably 95% of Twitter users, I just scroll through my feed looking for interesting tweets, or search specific hashtags or phrases to narrow things down a bit.
One justification often cited for lists on Twitter is that the content will be relevant to a specific subject. So, if I look at a list containing solely autistic users, I would expect to see autism content. But it doesn’t work like that. Most autistic people I see on Twitter don’t only tweet about autism; they tweet all kinds of stuff. I tweet about football, politics, science, writing, superheroes, Twin Peaks, and whatever else takes my fancy.
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I’m sure many people who create Facebook groups, or Twitter lists, or who aggressively moderate other areas of social media, have some reasonable explanations for what they do. Fine. What I’m saying is this: We autistic people are a social minority who often face exclusion, misunderstanding and out-grouping in the neurotypical world. When autistic people come to social media to interact with their autistic peers, and find situations that leave them feeling further out-grouped, then it shames us all a little. I considered asking the owners of some posts and tweets I’ve seen explaining how hurt and excluded they feel if I could screenshot them for this article. I decided against it. Some people are feeling deeply hurt from what I can see, and I’m not sure shining a spotlight on a few of them would help – if anything, it would group them together, so it would defeat the point I’m making.
It’s not all bad news. I often see people announcing themselves for the first time as autistic on social media, and these posts and tweets are invariably met with a chorus of welcomes and congratulations. I just don’t want it to end there. We don’t need to split the online autistic community into cliques, intentionally or otherwise – we all need each other.
That’s all for this week. Until next time, take care.
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Why Do I Write This Blog?
When I first found out I was autistic, I was a middle-aged adult and I knew nothing about autism. I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for adults in my situation. With this blog, I aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn, hopefully helping people who are on a similar journey of discovery. Like anyone who writes a blog, I want to reach as many readers as possible; if you like what I’m doing, please share it with your friends and followers. I will never hide this blog behind a paywall, but running the website does incur costs. If you would like to support, feel free to make a small contribution at BuyMeACoffee.Com.
You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.