Autism & Communication (Social Skills)

The factors of communication involve sending, receiving, transmitting and communicating. The individuals with autism often lack one of these factors which make them difficult to communicate (Bogdashina, 2005). People with autism (PWA) have problems in social interaction and communication, such as eye contact, verbal communication, verbal cue, facial expression. They are sensitive to environmental stimuli, face to face interaction, have sensitivity to bright lights, loud voices, and other similar type of factors (Burke & Williams, 2010).

Autistic people are often overlooked and are not taught the methods of social interaction that must be taught from a young age which help people to improve their awareness and understanding like the development of conversational skills, relationships with peers, self regulation and conflict resolution. The problem for autistic is that the impairment is based on non verbal behaviours which lead to the regulation of social interaction, such as gestures, eye contact and establishing and maintaining peer relationships, including lack of satisfaction and social and emotional reciprocity (Orsmond et al.

, 2010). This also means that it is hard for people with autism to create friendly relationships with other people, including other autistic people. Such features of autistic create stereotypes for them which lead to impaired social relationships and interaction (Orsmond et al. , 2010). There are several factors that influence a person with autism, which result in lack of interaction with others and difficulty making friends or social relationships: a child with autism has slow language development or may not develop at all.

He/She may show less attention in making friends and may become less responsive to social signals such as a smile or looking into eyes. Moreover, autistic people have difficulty in understanding the feelings of others. 2. 2 THE INTERNET AND SOCIAL INTERACTIONS 2. 2. 1 DEFINITION OF THE INTERNET The Internet is a world-wide broadcasting system, a mechanism for information dissemination, and a medium for collaboration and interaction between individuals and their computers without regard to geographic location (Leiner et al.

, 2009). According to DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman & Robinson “By ‘internet’ we refer to the electronic network of networks that links people and information through computers and other digital devices allowing person to person communication and allow information retrieval” (2001, p. 307). Today web has shifted from static to interactive media. Instead of relying on static HTML documents, modern web applications generate their contents dynamically and enable users to interact with other people.

For example, online newspapers and blogs allow users to add new contents and to engage other users in conversation through the commenting facility. Such interactive features have transformed web into a social information space (Indratmo and Vassileva, 2009, p. 538). The Internet has fast become a natural background part of everyday life. In 2002 more than 600 million people worldwide had access to internet (McKenna & Bargh, 1999). Furthermore, the Internet has become an urgent necessity in our daily general and social lives.

In particular the Internet has succeeded in transforming the world into a small village which has made it easier for people to communicate with each other in a split second. Through the use of e-mail, and chat sites it has become easy to connect with people from around the world which has allowed cultural and value exchange. 2. 2. 2 DEFINITION OF SOCIAL INTERACTION (SI): Sociological and anthropological view point states that a communication or an exchange between two people or a group of people means a social interaction.

Man is a social animal and cannot live in isolation. Sociologists like Max Weber have laid the foundations and theoretical concepts for this concept of social interaction. According to these theoretical constructs, man, originally being a dweller has gradually developed his social interaction form mere physical body movements to being purposeful and meaningful. These slowly developed into refined social behaviours, social contacts and social actions. With the advent of technology the mode and the frequency of the social interaction has undergone a tremendous transition.

During and before the early 20th century the only medium of social interaction use was a face to face interaction or postal interaction. Rarely, were the technological mediums used for this purpose. However, with the advent of technological inventions the whole system of interaction underwent a revolutionary change and telephone, fax, cell phones, internet took the place of postal services and face to face interaction. This change has been so revolutionary as the whole 21st century became associated with the technological change.

The dot com burst added to this change and since early 1990’s there has been no other means of communication as popular as internet. The face to face and even the telephonic interaction has been replaced by online and video chats, the face to face networking has been replaced by networking through social networking sites and now with the development of dynamic sites which allows user generated content, the face to face discussions have been changed to online discussions. Nevertheless, now the concept of ‘virtual life’ has also come up which has added a new dimension to social interaction.

2. 2. 3 HISTORY OF THE INTERNET The internet has been a result of visionary thinking of J. C. R. Licklinder of MIT who first proposed a global network of computers in 1962 for Defence Advanced Research Projects (DARP). The initial connection was set up using dial up connection lines which showed feasibility for computer networking. The internet then called as ARPANET was designed to provide a communications network that could work even after sites were damaged by nuclear attack and was only exclusively used by engineers, librarians and scientists.

The early computers were not user friendly and anyone using the system had to learn a complex system. There were no personal computers. Ray Tomilson in 1972 introduced email. Slowly and gradually, the Internet matured and the number of sites began to grow. Now as the Internet has become an indispensible part of work life and personal life there is a growth of small tablets, ebooks, pocket pc’s, palm tops, GPS devices. The internet is still growing and will keep on changing and growing as Heraclitus said in the 4th century BC, “Nothing is permanent, but change! ” 2.

2. 4 BENEFITS OF THE INTERNET IN SI According to Bargh & McKenna (2004, p. 575) people use the Internet for the main purpose of social interaction with e-mail being the most important method which helps people to maintain their personal relationships. They also have stated that ‘” the Internet will change almost every aspect of our lives—private, social, cultural, economic and political: because [they] deal with the very essence of human society: communication between people. Earlier technologies, from printing to the telegraph have wrought big changes over time.

But the social changes over the coming decades are likely to be much more extensive, and to happen much faster, than any in the past because the technologies driving them are continuing to develop at a breakneck pace. More importantly, they look as if together they will be as pervasive and ubiquitous as electricity'” (2004, p. 574). Personal communication through internet has become a priority and people are turning to increasingly use the Internet to meet their social and psychological needs and to formulate new friendships and networks and to exchange ideas with people who share the same views and values (McKenna ; Bargh, 1999).

2. 3THE SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES (SNSs) 2. 3. 1 WHAT IS SNSs? In recent years there has been a tremendous spread and popularity of web sites known as social networking sites. Social networking sites are synonymous to a social structure which consists of a group of individuals or organizations that have one or more relationships and share similar values, ideas and concerns similar interests. Many people use these sites to formulate new links, networks and friendships. According to Boyd ; Ellison (2007, p1) “Social networking sites are web? based services that allow individuals to construct a public or semi?

public profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site”. From previous definitions it is clear that social networking sites allow people to communicate with each other and share concerns and ideas. 2. 3. 2 HISTORY OF SNSs The first recognizable social network site was launched in 1997 known as SixDegrees (Ellison, 2007). SixDegrees allowed the users to create their own profiles and list their friends.

Such were also offered by early sites like AIM, Classmates. com. However, these early sites didn’t include the feature of publicly visible friends. Gradually, social network sites developed and started supporting the features like profile picture and publicly articulated friends. Some examples of these sites are Ryze, Friendster, Tribe. net and Cyworld with the later also offering the options for content privacy. These became popular by the beginning of 2000. However, again due to poor profile features these sites became less popular and finally by 2003 many new SNSs were launched with new features which attracted broad audiences.

These sites offered better content privacy, better profile customisation features, supported media and user generated content, were user friendly and regularly updated their content and features which also differentiated these sites from each other. Examples of some of these social networking sites are LinkedIn, Xing, Flicker, YouTube, Orkut and MySpace. As the usage of some social networking sites is increasing exponentially some of the social networking sites are focused on specific audiences and generally attract a smaller number of users.

Two of such sites are SmallWorld and MyChurch which are limited to their targeted demographic populations. Such specific sites allow users with similar demographics or similar health conditions to communicate and exchange ideas. Many such also allow mutual discussions where users can exchange and follow up with each other. Not surprisingly but many health practitioners also actively use such specific sites to keep in contact with their clients and even to administer treatment course. 2. 3. 3 FACTORS OF USING SNSs:

Given that social networking sites allow individuals to connect with one another, it is not surprising that they have deeply become embedded in user’s life. In Korea, Cyworld has become an important part of everyday life (Ellison, 2007). What makes these social networking sites as one the one of the most popular mode of social interaction is firstly, the exponential usage of the Internet itself. Internet has become of the basic necessities of life and it has become easily available and has become user friendly. With the advent of Laptops, Blackberry and wireless system anyone can connect to the Internet at any time.

The second important factor for the popularity of social networking sites is the ease in social communication that has been made possible by SNSs interaction model. A user can formulate his/her identity in the web and can connect with several people with absolutely no cost at all. These sites provide the advantage to user for customising the profile by adding features to profile like themes, colours, communities, online games etc. They also allow user articulated friends list which can be seen by people in same networks. Thirdly, today everyone wants to create a personal space or a page or a presence on the Internet.

This has been achieved by the social networking sites which also allow features for content security. Many of these sites offer the users to make its content private or visible. The Facebook is an example of one such networking site which has increased its tremendous popularity due to its features which can make the content private or public depending on the user’s choice. A fourth feature of social networking sites is that they allow users from similar demographic background or people sharing similar interests to come under one platform and share ideas.

This has received tremendous popularity in terms of health groups. It is estimated that many people want to exchange information about health related issues. Such networking sites or blogs have received immense popularity in the present time and many people including the health practitioners can be seen joining and discussing on these sites. An advantage of such health related discussions is that one can share ideas about mental and physical health which may otherwise be difficult to discuss or share during face to face interaction.

The above mentioned four factors are considered to be the most important factors of social networking sites. 2. 3. 4 TYPES OF SNSs The main categories of social networking sites are those which include categories with particular demographic or interests like MyChurch, Classmates. com and BlackPlanet; secondly, which often targets a larger audience and provide features of connecting and networking with wider audience like LinkedIn; and thirdly which uses a combination of the above mentioned features like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and Bebo. 2. 3. 5 STATISTICS OF SNSs

According to the WatBlog. com (Bhattacharya, 2007) the most popular social networking sites are MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Bebo. Amongst them MySpace is primarily used in North America (about 62%) and in Europe (25%). The results are similar for Facebook with 68% users from North America and 17% users from Europe. Orkut dominates Asia region by 43% of users from Asia and 48% of users from Latin America. According to Facebook press (Press, 2010) there are more than 400 million active users on Facebook with 50% of active users log on to Facebook in any given day.

The average user has 130 friends and people spend over 500 billion minutes per month on Facebook. This shows the popularity and the power of social networking sites. Jeremiah Owyang during 2008 (Owyang, 2008) conducted an analysis on the usage of social networking sites and found that MySpace has more than 110 million monthly active users and on an average 300,000 new people sign up to MySpace every day; hence making MySpace the second most popular after Facebook. 2. 3. 5 BENEFITS OF SNSs IN SOCIAL INTERACTIONS

Internet is changing the social communication process in the society. Earlier the only mode of communication was either a face to face communication or a very limited telephonic communication. Telephonic communication and face to face communication didn’t allow two people across the globe to communicate very frequently nor did it allow people to share information and ideas continuously. However, with the Internet a more continuous, cheaper and a more regular communication have become possible.

And social networking sites have become a platform for this process. Social networking sites offer users to send and receive most up to date information from their friends. This social exchange on networking sites have also taken place of exchange of information through videos (YouTube) and photographs (Flicker) which has added a new dimension to social interaction. Another important dimension of social networking sites is that these sites have made it possible for people to connect and network with new people.

This form of social interaction was only possible through networking sessions or by visiting new places. However, now with the blessing of social networking sites interaction with people from different countries, backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, religions, academic and work background have become possible and very easy. This form of social interaction has allowed people to understand and appreciate each other’s perspective and people have become more knowledgeable, open and accustomed to each other’s culture.

While on one hand the social networking sites have revolutionized the way of communication on the other hand there is a flip side to this type of communication which has made people addicted to social networking sites. However, the benefits of using these sites often outweigh the cons of these. 2. 4 AUTISTIC AND SNSs Vera, Sriram and Nakhoda (Opitz et al. , 2001) conducted an experimental study in 2001 in order to understand the impact of computer assisted instruction on the problem solving skills of autistic children.

Children with autism have difficult in solving social problems and in generating multiple solutions to the problems. However, they are skilled in responding to visual cues such as animations and pictures. Vera et. al used the similar stimuli and found a steady increase in problem solving capability of autistic. The results from this study suggested that children with autism and can be taught problem-solving strategies with the aid of interactive computer interfaces. Another study by Orsmond et. al (Orsmond et al. , 2010) found that children and adolescent with autism very rarely develop any form of typical peer relationships.

Such children report feeling of loneliness and exhibit low developed social skills. Orsomd et. al have stated that contrary to this belief there have been longitudinal studies which support the fact that many individuals with autism show increased interest in social relationships and there have been evidences where teachers, adults and parents can help to improve the social interaction of the autistic. This and other similar studies state that autistic people have a potential to enhance their social interaction if they are taught through the correct medium.

Another landmark study by Bauminger, 2002 evaluated the effectiveness of a 7-month cognitive behavioural intervention for the facilitation of the social-emotional understanding and social interaction among autistic. The results demonstrated positive outcomes with an improvement in social interaction with peers, improved eye contact and improved ability to share experiences with their peers. This study also indicates the effectiveness of appropriate instructions and training for the development of the autistic. Newton et. al (Newton et al. , 2009) highlighted the importance of internet for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

In particular their study mentioned about the importance of web blogs for personal expression. Writing blogs provide a comfort zone for the autistic which allows them to seek for social interaction without the pressure of face-to-face interaction. Internet allows autistic to socially interact and engage with one another without sharing the same physical space. Blogs separate the author from the reader in spaces (physical distance between computers) and time (delay between posting an entry and potential responses), making blogging a distal communication modality (Newton et al. , 2009). Burke et.

al (Burke ; Williams, 2010)also highlighted the importance of computer-mediated communication (CMC) with autistic. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have difficulty in making eye contacts, interpreting nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, processing non-literal language, thinking flexibility and understanding other people perspective (Burke ; Williams, 2010). In their findings they found that text messaging, email, and Facebook wall posts provide a highly structured environment without extraneous stimuli and that their asynchronicity allows users additional processing time.

Other than these benefits the Internet provides a window for social interaction for autistic. Many psychologists contend the view point that such interaction on the Internet enhances a psychological well being for the autistic and particularly with people of low self esteem. Finally, the Internet allows sharing of feelings, ideas and reading other’s disclosures which increases the user’s quality of life. 2. 5 THE LITERATURE GAP Previous studies have been conducted finding the impact of computer mediated communication (CMC) on the autistic. As discussed above studies have found a positive impact of computers on the autistic.

Previous studies have also focused upon the inter relationship between blogs, and online communities on the autistic. These studies have shown that blogs provide a platform for autistic for social interaction. The previous studies have specifically focused upon the impact of the Internet on autistic but the study on the impact of social networking sites on autistic is still in its infancy. Hence, this study will aim to conduct research on the impact of social networking sites on the social interaction of autistic. 2. 6 THE CONCLUSION In the above sections autism, its definition and symptoms were discussed.

The importance of computer with its historical evolution was presented and the importance of the Internet was discussed. Further, the usage of social networking sites and their importance for enhancing social interaction among autistic were also discussed. The review of the literature indicated that there is a dearth of studies which explores the co relationship between social networking sites and the social interaction of autistic. In this view, the present study aims to explore the relationship between social networking sites and its impact on the social interaction of the autistic. REFERENECS 1. Anon.

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