Online Confusion

I recently left two "Yahoo Groups" for autistic individuals and their families.

Now, before you dismiss this as being hypersensitive in general, understand that I still read posting on several political, philosophical, and academic forums. These forums deal with controversial issues with some regularity. The difference seems to be that the autism forums were not able to moderate differences and find common ground. Instead, a passionate debate about religion (of all things) derailed one group for two weeks.

If I were the moderator of a mailing list and forum dedicated to issues of autism, I would have put a quick stop to any discussion of religion with a "It's good if your church helps you, but let's refrain from discussions about faith." Instead, the agnostics, atheists, and believers kept insulting each other. Useless waste of time, if you ask me. Instead, we should be asking what services that were complete non-religious were offered and how they were helpful. If it was merely faith and comfort, then we could have moved on to another topic

But, no, this debate had all the passion of a mercury / genetic debate in the autism world. It was a pointless debate, helping no one, and only fueling anger.

Any notion that autistic individuals are more logical and scientifically-minded than others is sheer nonsense. As I have witnessed more than once online, the beliefs of autistic individuals are as absurd as those of other humans. If anything, the high-functioning and Asperger's Syndrome members of online communities are more likely to end up arguing stridently and debating points so minor as to be meaningless in most face-to-face discussions.

Debates online are naturally a problem, anyway. There are plenty of studies suggesting e-mail and chat lead to more conflicts than interpersonal meetings, primarily because most people rely heavily on unspoken cues to synchronize exchanges. I encourage people to read the literature on this problem — which is likely to get worse, not better, over time. Now, consider the fact autism already hinders normal communication patterns and put this group online... and wait for the explosions.

I think we need to help autistic individuals learn how to "read" online chats, just as we might offer this same course to everyone in the business world. E-mail and online forums are different. You need to be very, very careful not to argue about people, but to instead focus on ideas and concepts.

Oh, well. I'll head off to the more restrained realm of political debate.


  1. Yes debating on line is difficult.
    I have also left parent chat rooms for similar reasons.

  2. I think I know what group you're talking about, and I didn't get involved in that "debate". I'm already burned out on arguing with other aspies, and I Never really liked arguing in the first place.


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