My Autistic 10-year-old is Stalking You on Facebook

“Mommy iPhone!”

That’s the call of the Quentin-bird, coming from the back seat of the car. It’s one of this particular specimen’s most common calls these days. He speaks in commands, almost exclusively in nouns. The volume of this request is loud, and if you don’t respond, it gets even louder. “Mommy! iPHONE!”

Quentin often requests my phone in places where we have no wifi connection, because he somehow instinctively understands that Mommy’s iPhone has 3G capability while his iPad does not. He’s a smart little birdie.

While Quentin loves to look at YouTube or Safari, he has those apps on his iPad already. His go-to app on my phone is something he does not have access to there: Facebook. No, he does not have his own Facebook account; he simply likes to look at mine.

Initially, this worried me. Facebook is a little bit of a free-for-all. For the most part, my friends post civil things, so I wasn’t too worried. However, I felt even calmer after I observed him using Facebook a few times. It’s clear that he is looking for photos and videos of people he knows, and not really reading anything other than captions.

For Quentin, Facebook is about memories. He has strong ones. In fact, it feels likes he’s constantly reliving memories in conversations. He remembers people he may have just met once, as they were passing through New York City and stopped by for a visit to our home. He remembers old babysitters. He remembers the parents of the kids who came to his birthday party when he was two years old. He knows these names because he often asks for them when he meets people in person. Then, he squirrels away the information and checks it all out on Facebook.

At first, Quentin simply went to my profile page and looked at all photos and videos that I posted. This is understandable – most of what I post is about our family. When he grew bored with looking at what I share, he went to my husband, Michael’s page. Then he clicked over to aunts, uncles, and grandparents. And now, he seems to want to hunt down pretty much everyone he’s ever met.

If you have ever met Quentin in person and are a friend of mine on Facebook, I am taking this opportunity to inform you: Quentin may be looking at your photos and videos on a regular basis. He finds things that you may have posted years ago and have forgotten about. He looks at them regularly. He checks out your most recent updates. He does not comment or “like” a photo (at least, not on purpose), but he lurks.

He wants to see you and/ or your children in your posts. No, he does not care about pretty views, your feet at the beach, or what you ate for dinner. He specifically wants to see your faces and the activities you are doing. He likes to see you smile.

In addition, he has figured out how to use the search toolbar at the top of the app to type in names. He may just know a first name, but the app guides him to choose from a selection of people with that first name who I am friends with. Sometimes, Quentin even asks about people who I am not friends with on Facebook, but he has met in real life. He just assumes that we are all already connected on Facebook and is confused if we are not Facebook friends. He searches for the name, asking me for the spelling of the first and last name. Yup, he is THAT much of a stalker.

I find this whole thing fascinating to watch. I have heard rumors that autistic adults and teens enjoy using social media such as Facebook because it is easier to socialize that way – behind a screen. Facebook negates the need for eye contact. It allows for slow processors, who normally have a hard time keeping up with conversation cues,  to post a witty remark even if it’s minutes or hours or days later. In the end, it allows for a level playing field when it comes to socializing. And Quentin likes it.

For now, the Quentin-bird is still in the nest. No, I won’t be giving him his own Facebook account anytime soon. However, I will most definitely do so when he is ready. Quentin has no close friendships in real life, but this might make the difference for him. If words and pictures bring him closer to people he is interested in, than this is the way we’ll go. I am sure that it will help him to fly high.

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