My husband doesn’t share my enthusiasm for social media. That’s fine; there are many people who see it all as vain, vacuous, narcissistic, soul-sapping nonsense. And certainly, there is much of it that is. But my husband’s chief objection to it is that he can’t fathom people’s need for constant validation.
People have always needed validation. Many children in school playgrounds like to feel popular. Or, if not popular, then at least not a complete and utter social pariah. Some, like my childhood self, will make notes of overheard conversations and, at a future date, drop certain topics, words or phrases into interactions with peers, or will try and buy into certain trends – toys, clothes, whatever – all in an attempt to appear engaged with what it is ‘normal’ to be engaged with, whilst nevertheless being somewhat bemused by it all. The selfie culture is about seeking approval. And, yes, so is an awful lot of text-based social media interaction.
But for anyone in any kind of minority (or disadvantaged) group, it goes beyond that. If you’re not autistic, poor, LGBT+, disabled, BME, or, hell, female (and I realise I’m not being exhaustive in my list of underprivileged groups here), just try to imagine for a short while what it must be like to be surrounded by others who appear not to experience the world in the same way as you. Wouldn’t it be great to come across others who see things similarly? To discover something about yourself through learning about the experiences of others like you? To feel a little less…alien? And, perhaps, to love yourself just that little bit more as a result?
Validation comes in many forms. Music gigs. Group therapy sessions. A political rally. Communities of Practice (the team I work in runs a lot of continuing professional development and networking activities for lecturing/teaching staff, and shared experience is such an important aspect of discussion – it’s also one reason for writing up case studies). Underground activists’ meetings.
Persecuted groups have, throughout history, met, often secretly, and whilst some of these meetings might have been focused on organising, planning, struggling, I’m sure shared experience would have been an essential part of it all.
Community. Sharing. Validation.
Researching the scholarly literature is one (arguably often infuriating) way of finding out about autism, as is reading factual web information from trusted organisations. But this isn’t really enough. Especially if you’re autistic and female. We’re far less visible. And that’s one big reason why so many of us aren’t formally diagnosed. We don’t conform to the expected model.
As soon as you start reading blog posts by other autistic women, watching videos on YouTube, participating in extended Twitter exchanges, and joining in with discussions in closed Facebook groups set up just for people like you, you start to realise you’re not the horrible freak you always thought you were. There are lots and lots of lovely people out there whose lived experience of the world is just that little bit closer to yours. Many of those thoughts, feelings and behaviours you’ve spent a lifetime trying to curb because they weren’t ‘normal’ are actually a perfectly valid and acceptable part of who you are. You’re not alone. And you’re pretty bloody awesome just the way you are. Think how much you’ve already overcome.
I recently shared a Vox article on aphantasia on Facebook with a couple of friends who have this particular neurodivergence, and one was so pleased to see her experience of the world explained so clearly. She’d always assumed everyone saw the world in this way, and had been stunned to discover this wasn’t the case. She told me, quite categorically, that it was great to feel validated.
When many people write ‘honest’ parenting blogs (another of my husband’s pet hates), their primary motivation is not usually one of vanity – it’s to provided an authentic #actuallyaparent voice amongst all the conflicting professional advice many parents (sadly more often mums) are bombarded and beaten down with from pre-conception onwards. Many parents are grateful to read that their own experience is real, valid, and shared.
In writing a blog, I want other people to read it. If my experiences resonate with someone else, there’s the potential that they could help them (perhaps I’m being arrogant here…). I know that reading others’ words, and interacting with others online, has helped me vastly.
For autistic people, the Web can be overwhelming. There’s a shitload of information out there, folks.
But it provides a means to commune, and share, in a way that was never possible before. The more autistic women and girls are able to see themselves through others, the more likely it is that they can get a diagnosis and support (if needed or available), and the more likely it is that they won’t spend quite as much of their lives suffering mental illness, identity crises, career-threatening misunderstandings at work, underachievement, and so on.
Even just being able to love yourself a little more is worth a hell of a lot.