At the end of the last century a researcher proposed there is a limitation to how many people we can have in our social lives. Coined “Dunbar’s Number” the theory asserts that humans can have stable social relationships with only about 150 people. This is clearly a speculative number at best, but the idea behind it rings true. There is a limitation to how many people we can have close and meaningful relationships with.
What happens when we start trying to have relationships with more people?
I met someone this week who has over 200k Instagram followers and makes a living- and a self-identity- from being Instafamous. Dunbar would have lost his mind.
Social media was not a concept when Dunbar set the bar at 150 and clearly the idea of what is social and what constitutes a meaningful relationship must be revisited in the new digital world.
When it comes to kids with autism it seems we spend a lot of time trying to teach them to be Dunbar-social, when they often naturally already know how to be Instagram social.
What is Instagram social? It’s where you are really into a specific thing, you find all the people who are also into that thing, and you all nerd-out together about it.
Sound a little autistic? Maybe autism isn’t so bad after all… (insert sarcasm emoji here)
We spend a lot of time teaching kids with autism how to act like everyone else, while in some important ways everyone else is starting to act more like what we call autism.
Good social skills are important, this is acknowledged. But with our effort and focus on social skill deficits, let us not forget that kids with autism have a lot of natural strengths too. In fact some strengths that might be just now becoming useful.
Finding a bunch of people who want to obsessively nerd-out about a very specific topic and connecting them online is a real thing. It’s called SEO (Search Engine Optimization). And people pay a lot of money for that “autistic” behavior.
So yes we need to continue equipping our kids to have all the social tools they can, but let’s not forget they come loaded with some special features already.
Hand flapping and eye contact? Doesn’t matter so much online.