Thursday 23 December 2010

Seasons Greetings in the Virtual Environment

Merry Christmas and welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works,

This week, the adventure has taken me into a new world, the virtual world of Second Life, where I was invited to a Christmas party after having been a member for just two days. Such virtual environments are beneficial to many people on the autistic spectrum in the sense that they can take away the anxiety that they may face when going into social situations where they don't know anyone. For me though, getting used to the social conventions of the virtual world has helped me revisit the period of my life prior to my diagnosis, thus enabling me to see my surroundings from a refreshed perspective.

An aspect that I have found helpful from the eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course I have recently completed is approaching situations, including those that are new to you and those you are used to from a beginner's mindset. When giving talks and training on Asperger's Syndrome, a technique that I often use to gain an idea of how it may actually feel to be a person with Asperger's Syndrome is to imagine yourself in a foreign country where nobody speaks English, so you can ask directions. Added to that, there are no English translations on any of the road signs, so you can find your way around. Such situations can be anxiety-inducing to anyone, but the confused and anxious feelings we may experience can be similar to how it can be to be a person with Asperger's Syndrome in normal life.

Though people on the autistic spectrum can feel more comfortable in a virtual environment with the absence of non-verbal communication (e.g. facial expressions), attending a social event within Second Life for me was like experiencing parties in the real world as a person with Asperger's Syndrome! There are so many things that you can do in a virtual environment unknown in the real world, including walk through walls, teleport from place-to-place and even fly like Superman! Additionally, I also have the issue that I don't take to new technology as quickly as some, like Peter, my colleague here at Autism Works, does being from an IT background. Though Peter has admitted that he has felt a little nervous at times in Second Life in terms of knowing what the 'expected behaviour' is.

However, I can see the huge potential that a concept like Second Life has for Autism Works as well as for my own autism and Asperger's Syndrome training through being able to deliver training as well as being able to recruit within a virtual environment. Being able to secure employment within a virtual environment where one doesn't have to balance eye-contact and other non-verbal cues with speech could be of great benefit to many people on the spectrum. When giving training on autism and Asperger's Syndrome, being able to do it in  Second Life would save a lot of travelling time, not to mention the stress of travelling in the current adverse weather conditions we are experiencing here in the UK, and would also be able to invite a wider audience, to raise awareness further.

Over the Christmas break, I will try to make an effort to become more accustomed to Second Life so that I can take full advantage of its potential. I would like to say thank you to Serendipity (real name Thomas) for helping me integrate into my first virtual party and I would also like to wish all readers a very Merry Christmas.

Seasons Greetings,


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