August 21, 2021

Online friendships are real friendships.

My favorite silver lining of the pandemic is that virtual socializing has proven this to be true.

I knew it already, and so did others like me. But it hadn’t clicked for society at large, including many parents.

A few years ago, one of those parents asked me what to do about her son. She said he had an active social life online, but not in the “real world.”

I encouraged her to treat the Internet as part of the real world.

Yes, interactions there can pose a risk if the match isn’t appropriate. The same is true in person. But both places offer amazing opportunities for fulfilling friendships, too.

For example, I met my first co-ed friend group in an online forum. There, fans of the show Kim Possible created art, music, and scripts for new episodes – including ourselves as characters.

We formed a tight-knit, supportive community around our shared interest. The forum was TV Tome, so we called ourselves Tomers.

When the Academy Awards aired, we designed awards for one another, and I was voted “Nicest Tomer.” I printed the award and hung it in my high school locker, to remind myself that I had a group of friends who valued me.

I sincerely believe it would not have been possible for me, at that age, to have an equivalent experience in person.

I did later, in college. But first I needed practice with communicating through written messages and creative collaboration – without the complexity of reading facial expressions, catching sarcasm, and processing audio fast enough to laugh at jokes in time.

TV Tome no longer exists. I don’t know which forums, games, or websites offer a similar community for kids these days, and I can’t guarantee the safety of any site. But I think a site is more likely to create a lasting connection if it’s rooted in a shared passion.

If your child has already found such a site, I hope this post will help you see why it matters so much to them.

It’s because online friendships are real friendships.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.