Andraya has trouble speaking to strangers and even describes herself as “phone phobic.” However, she has no problem sharing her thoughts with the world through the internet.
Andraya, who asked her last name remain confidential, started writing the blog “Asperger’s and Me” last year after she was diagnosed with asperger syndrome at the age of 30.
“I decided a blog could be useful either as a way to express my thoughts and opinions to the world, or at least to whomever might read it, or as a way to help me work through personal issues,” she said in a Facebook message because of her apprehension of speaking on the phone with strangers. “Plus, in theory, a blog will let me express myself to a much larger audience than I ever could otherwise - which I imagine is much of why anyone starts a blog.”
Andraya is not the first with a form of autism to turn to social media to help cope with the condition. Many with autism and their families are using social media to express themselves, seek help or even for therapy.
Autism can take many forms. Asperger syndrome is usually considered a high-functioning form of autism.Those who have the condition may be slightly clumsy, repeat behaviors or obsess over certain topics.
“I enjoy writing and find it easier to express myself via writing than any other means,” said Andraya. “Writing often helps me sort my thoughts if they feel jumbled.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 88 children in the U.S. has autism, based on data collected in 2008.
Susan Abrams, a Rockville-based speech-language pathologist, held a series of workshops to teach parents how to help their autistic children develop social skills. She held the final workshop last Wednesday night.
Many autistic children “feel they don’t have friends,” she said. “The child is in the playground playing by themselves.”
Part of the reason some autistic children have trouble making friends is because they take a lot of information literally.
“They see everything in black and white,” Abrams said. “They might miss the social nuances.”
Parents of children with autism also look to the internet for help.
Jean Winegardner, a stay-at-home-mother of three children, one of whom is autistic, has a blog called “Stimeyland,” writes a column in The Washington Times, actively uses Twitter and Facebook, and started AutMont, a website with information for parents of autistic children in Montgomery County.
She had already been blogging for a several when one of her sons, Jack, was diagnosed with autism. Social media helped her find support, she said.
“If I hadn’t been blogging, my path would have been different,” she said. “It helped me get to where I am."
She was able to find an online community of parents with autistic children that helped her along the way.
“I found people who were going through the same things I’ve been going through,” said Winegardner. “It provides both educational and emotional support.”
Winegardner said she hopes to make the world a better place for children and adults with autism.
“When people think of autism, they think of kids,” she said. “My agenda is to make the world a better place for adults with autism and for my son, who will become an adult.”
Aside from blogging, she tweets about her experiences regularly and stays in touch with other parents through the micro-blogging site. Sometimes, she just uses it to vent.
In one instance, she expressed her excitement at a special-needs hockey game:
The next day, her tweets had a different tone: