Monday, October 8, 2018

Reading the Research: Join, join, join!

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article discusses a strategy for making friends, which is a subject many autistic people experience difficulties with.  That strategy: join a lot of related communities, rather than just one or two around your favorite subjects.  So, if you like webcomics, join the forums for a bunch of similar ones.  Or, if you like a particular sport, join various groups that watch that sport, or play it, or whatever your preference is.  Someone who loves jogging might get involved in a few local races, as well as join a runner's club or two, and regularly visit a local gym.  

The article goes into interesting complicating factors in understanding how friendships form, including the similarity of people inside the groups, and whether the people becoming friends have any acquaintances in common.  But surprisingly to me, they end up discarding those factors as irrelevant, given their data.  Meaning it might well be as simple as "how many fan groups have you joined?"

One of the researchers put it this way: "If two people are active in the same community at the same time, they have a constant, usually small, probability of forming a friendship."

I'd be really curious to know the results if anyone tried this, specifically.  There are whole websites devoted to helping people find interest groups.  Meetup is the first one that comes to my mind, but there's also Eventbrite, MeetIn, and CitySocializer.

The downside to this, is, of course, that people with special needs often have limitations to our opportunities.  We have limited energy we can spend on interacting with groups and strangers.  Our means of transport can be limited, for example.  Not everyone on the spectrum drives.  We may not have much disposable income to spend on meals out, or buying things like movie tickets or paid entry to venues.

These limitations aren't necessarily a complete roadblock- online communities can also lead to viable, worthwhile friendships.  This concept may surprise people of the older generations, what with the importance they place on face-to-face interactions...  but I have personal evidence that a good friendship can last years, even if you've never actually met the person.

My oldest friend is from the UK.  I have never seen his face, and he hates having pictures of himself online, so unless I visit England, I probably won't get to.  We've lost touch for a couple years here and there, but generally speaking, we chat at least once a month, sometimes multiple times a week.  Mainly via text, but I've also spoken to him via a service similar to a telephone.  He is quirky, but he is an excellent friend and genuinely cares whether I'm doing well or not.  He's learned to take disappointment in stride, thankfully, because I'm usually a grump about something or other, and also depression is a thing I deal with regularly.

Like any friendship, it's not been perfect.  We've had miscommunications in plenty, but the friendship has lasted over 15 years.  Which is more than half my life!  Relevantly, I met him through a fan community for a video game we both played.  I found out later that we also had a different community in common, centered on that same video game.

So maybe the theory works.  If I ever give it a try, I'll let you know.  

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