But since I decided to overcome my fear, my experience has been unquestionably positive.
Many Aspies have found their comfort zone in chat rooms long before me. Others remain hesitant to try, whether out of fear of socialization or discomfort with the medium. I’d like to address the latter group here, and list some reasons why I think chat rooms can be especially beneficial to those on the autism spectrum.
1. A chat room can be confusing at first if you’ve never experienced it. But if you hang around long enough, you’ll get used to the flow.
2. It’s okay to sit back and observe until you feel comfortable. Just say hello, and if you like, greet others when they arrive. You will get an idea of who is a regular, and who will greet you time after time, and you can return their greeting.
3. People in chat can talk all at once, and even have multiple conversations. In person, this is extremely hard to process, but in chat, you have time – the transcript is right there on your screen.
4. Pauses in conversation are allowed! You can take your time in responding to a question – even several minutes!
5. No excessive use of um... like... you know… (Note, I didn’t say no use.)
6. Aspies often have trouble when a conversation suddenly ends, or changes topic. In chat, you can pinpoint where the topic changed, by scrolling up. Less whiplash!
7. In text-based chat, NT’s don’t have access to their usual conversational cues – sarcasm is very difficult to do, and nuances of expression aren’t easily detected. So the NT's are thrown off a bit, kind of like we Aspies are in in-person conversation. So it somewhat levels the playing field for us.
8. Aspies love rules, and chat comes with its own universe of rules and language. Learn new and exciting words, like wb, or -__- or o_O!
9. Also, learn the special secret tricks of chat, like how to do an action, or change your font color. You kind of have to ask someone how. Like the olden days of passing language down by word of mouth.
10. When chatting with people using a webcam, you can look at their faces without making eye contact! You can chat by text with them if you’re not on cam yourself.
11. If you turn on your webcam, you can see yourself on screen, like a rear view mirror. Handy to check if you are wearing an appropriate expression. Wouldn’t that be nice to have in person?
12. If you don’t like someone’s face, hide their cam! (Don’t tell them when you do this.)
13. Chat has an immediacy to it, and at its best, a personal connection, that I haven’t found in other social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. I haven’t given up my social media, but I prefer chat when I’m in the mood for human interaction.
14. Awkward goodbyes are allowed in chat! When you’re out of things to say, just say you’ve got to go now. Or, just leave!
15. A chat room can be a place to go and find other people to talk to, on those nights when there is no one around, and nowhere to go.
Always be safe online. Chat with a community you know, or with friends from real life. Know whether the chat room is accessible to the public, and don’t give out your name or personal information.
Chat has become an integral part of my social life. My cyber-acquaintances are important connections to me, who I enjoy interacting with, and sharing ups and downs with, unbounded by geography and with an unlimited variety of life backgrounds. A few weeks ago, one of our chat regulars passed away at a young age, from a chronic illness. We all felt the loss, even if we hadn’t talked to him much, we got to know his sense of humor, his personality, and his spirit. We were reminded how real these connections become.
There’s something wonderful about how you can walk into a room where everyone has an alias, where some are half-asleep, some are eating their dinner, and some are drunk, and you just might find their most honest self. You might find the truth.
Unfortunately, autism chat rooms are few and far between. Wrong Planet is probably the most active. If you know of an active chat community, please share it in the comments. You can also create your own public or private chat room on Tinychat – it’s probably my favorite platform.
So go ahead. Go find a chat, and click to enter.
Thoughts and illustrations on living with Asperger's Syndrome.