Typical Friends And The Cyber Social World: 1-9-12

Question: There are many wonderful friendships made along the special needs pathway both for our daughter and for her family. Devoted, kindly and generous souls who emerge via a variety of interfaces, and most last. But I have a question here. Have those friendships that grew out of typical peers helping their special needs classmates last into adulthood and on? I don’t anticipate an answer; rather, more of a discussion. Our daughter had some “typical” smart and loving peers from her one year at our local high school, though none from her years in middle and elementary school, before she went on to her special education boarding school. Seven years later, only one of those four is available for actual time together. Some of this is geography. But Facebook doesn’t require proximity nor does text and cell phone contact. Nope, I believe this is a matter of “difference”. At least in our case.

Unfriended: Is that the correct Facebook terminology? I believe our daughter has been unfriended by one of the two remaining typical peer friends from that earlier period. How do I know this? Not from prying but from her not commenting on a particular incident reported on my Facebook page by this peer that would have alerted and, in fact, been of concern to her. She said nothing, which was puzzling, so I mentioned the situation her friend was facing. She had no idea. I did my own search and saw that this name was no longer listed amongst her friends. Previously we had to remove the name from her “contacts” on her phone because she began texting a bit too much, which she understood, and agreed that…”taking temptation away is a good thing.” But the Facebook deletion, that could be quite confusing.

Requiring Translation: This is not the first such incident. The Facebook and phone texting world can be a challenge for a special needs young adult whose inclination to be unusually focused on someone can feel like stalking, inappropriate or embarrassing. On one occasion, a friend of our son told our daughter in no uncertain terms to stop commenting on his photos on Facebook. That angered her and hurt her feelings. I think it also embarrassed and confused her. She didn’t get it. Another “typical” peer did something similar but since she had learned from the previous young man, she weathered the second “rejection” with understanding. Facebook invites many mortifying moments for vulnerable teens and young adults. Perhaps mature adults as well. So I cannot say that a special needs young adult is alone in this mix. But there is a difference. Reading social cues or grasping implicit social protocol, cyber style or not, is very difficult for the special needs world. And now that this young man (and usually it is a male who inspires her most active communications) has dropped her, the teachable moment has arisen once again. It is not for lack of kindness or goodness on this young fellow’s part. Nope, it is simply from his experience. When he had an emotional crisis last year, our daughter texted him constantly and made what might have been embarrassingly sympathetic comments on his Facebook page. It is simply a practical and preventative measure to bypass further embarrassments. Hence, the unfriending. Alas, it is not so easy to teach the nuanced distinction between appropriate empathy and what might feel like over the top, awkwardly soppy comforting.

Social Fact Facing: Our daughter does not choose to read this blog. And though she has been invited to participate in it, she has not. However last week I asked her for some input for my latest installment and her response was “Saying Goodbye To A Friend.” That was her input. Again her focus was on a young man who was off to study abroad, a “typical” friend (most are her brother’s pals who get her and care for her, and for him best of all) whom she knew she would miss. This is what moves her. She will probably communicate frequently via Facebook while this fellow is abroad, though I imagine he will have little time to respond. Will our daughter discover that her other friend has removed her from his Facebook listing? I think so. Do I need to tell her before she figures that out? No. And maybe I am wrong, perhaps he is still there somewhere but I couldn’t find him. But when she does notice his absence on her page, we will have a talk. Probably she will have her own ideas about why she has been dropped. And from her own ideas, she can learn. That is the good news. And learning social nuances, whether in cyber space or down here on the ground, is necessary for all humans, isn’t it? Taking a page out of a social skills workbook for special needs is probably a good idea for everyone.

Painful Process? In earlier times, I felt more pained for our daughter when she hit the jagged edge of social transaction, with the subsequent confusion and hurt. Now I do see that she learns something useful from these rocky crossroads. Something, not everything, because as so-called normals, we know it is hard to walk in another’s moccasins, especially when our toes fall beneath their soles.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W, L.C.S.W. 2012

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