Recently I was asked if Asperger’s and Internet Addiction were correlated, and if so, what the reasons were. This is an interesting question, as my two main specialties are Asperger’s and Internet Addiction. As most of my clients have Asperger’s or Internet Addiction, I feel I can answer this, for at least my population. For me, the answer is a resounding yes, that at least half of my clients with Asperger’s also have Internet Addiction abuse or addiction. The main question, is why?
My first career was Web Designer / Network Administrator, and I spent most of my time on computers. I have been working with computers for over 25 years. I have made database systems, work for colleges, financial institutions, etc. For me, computers are as natural as breathing. I can build them, program them, and make them do as I please. I find it easier to communicate with them, and I often use them in my leisure activities. For me, computers are as connected to me as if they were an extension of my own body. I have also been addicted to computer games and know well how to powerful addiction to technology can be. My experiences are common to many with Asperger’s, from the clients I have treated.
It’s All About Connections
For most with Asperger’s, communicating with others is difficult. Many have problems anticipating the responses of others and have a hard time reading emotions. Face to face communication can be a problem if you cannot read what someone is feeling or can anticipate what they will say. Awkward pauses are common, and stuttering is common. As anxiety builds, communication suffers. People with Asperger’s DO want to communicate. They want to be a part of the world; they just do not want to feel social anxiety. If only they had a tool where they could communicate, but not face to face, and have time to think of responses. Well, they do, and it’s the computer. Most Asperger’s have a much greater online social presence than real life and find more value and meaning in it.
Asperger’s want to make connections with others, and Computers are the tool. However, many will spend so much time on the computer, they will loose the ability to communicate in person, and will suffer more anxiety. Social skills, are skills and need to be practiced.
The Act of Creation
Most with Asperger’s are intelligent and creative. Like anyone, they want to express themselves. The act of creating something is powerful and rewarding. Most look to computers as their medium of creation. I understand this feeling, as I felt intense pride and accomplishment as I would complete a project. I made something from nothing; something others will use. My creation will benefit others. Therefore, I have meaning. I admit I miss this feeling, as I am no longer a web designer or work in Information Technology. Sometimes, looking at a screen of code can be soothing, knowing I can manipulate it to my will. This is the same feelings Asperger’s have when working on computers.
This feeling can be addicting. I remember times I spent 20+ hours in a row on a project, feeling I must complete it, before all else. This addiction cam becomes devastating if unchecked. This was common for my friend with Asperger’s, who would often spend 15-20 hours working, and forget to eat. I have done this as well.
In Their Own World
On the Internet, you can be who you want to be. If you are a loner with few friends in the real world, you can make many friends online, and feel you are no longer a loner. If you feel you accomplish little in real life, you can play an online game, become a master at it, and convince yourself you have meaning. If you feel you have little control in your life, you can design websites and computer programs, and control what you want. Online, you can be anyone you want, and this is addicting. Online accomplishments should not be ignored. However, they can overshadow real life accomplishments if not careful.
Most Asperger’s clients I have treated spend 10+ hours a day on the computer, sometimes 15-20. I have seen withdrawal symptoms if not connected to the Internet. There is nothing wrong with being on the Internet, but if it is your entire life, it is a problem.
How Do We Solve This?
Computers and the Internet itself are not the problems; it is the feelings within. The social anxiety, the obsessions, the addictions, that need to be fixed. The Internet is not something one can refrain from as most jobs and schools require it. However, understand motivations behind the Internet abuse is important. If you understand what is gained from the Internet, alternatives can be found. I work with my clients to find the alternatives and to work with the Asperger symptoms, both positive and negative. Working on these at the same times leads to better success. By understanding why Asperger’s and Internet Addiction are related, better treatment outcomes are likely.
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