‘ACEbook’ project helps adults with Autism across Europe to make friends
Results from a research project have shown that Facebook can be used to help adults with Autism to establish social connections and make friends.
The two-year Autism Connections Europe (ACE) research project (nicknamed the ‘ACEbook project’), has helped people with Autism to overcome social fears, and improve their social and communication skills, moods and level of independence.
The project enabled adults with Autism to meet and form friendships based on common interests through Facebook, and then to meet regularly in person in various locations around Europe, to deepen the friendships they formed online.
Under normal circumstances, many people with Autism Spectrum Disorders find it very difficult to establish social connections and maintain friendships, because Autism affects a person’s ability to communicate and understand social information, such as facial expressions, body language and other subtleties in everyday conversation.
It is also common for people with Autism to have very limited interests; talking at length about a particular topic or hobby, which can pose difficulties in relating to other people.
As one of the ACE project’s participants, 22 year-old Nastja Trtnik from Slovenia, describes: “I’m often embarrassed when I am with other people, because I don’t know how to react in certain situations. I would feel much better if more people would try to understand me and include me”.
The project’s coordinator, Janja Kranjc, of the Center for Autism Slovenia, explained how the project aimed to help: “In this project we are tracking participants’ social communication skills and measuring things like feelings of wellbeing, happiness and the quality of the friendships participants have built.”
Collaborator, Dr John Lawson, of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge and the Oxford Brookes University, explained the team’s methodology: “We have conducted two main investigations. First, we have monitored activities and profiles on Facebook, and second, we have asked participants and their parents about their experiences being a part of this project.”
So far, the results have been very positive. Another project participant, 38 year-old Scott Burdon from the United Kingdom, described his experience of the project: “I have found the experience of meeting new people on the project very educational. This project has given me the opportunity to travel to places I would never have seen otherwise and learn about new cultures”.
Parents of the young adults have also been interviewed to gauge the project’s effectiveness.
“Parents have reported significant positive changes in their sons’/daughters’ independence, mood, social skills and communication which they attribute to the project,” explained Dr Lawson.
“The preliminary results from interviews with parents also show that the project has challenged their sons and daughters to overcome certain fears, and that the resulting feelings of pride and achievement have had significant influence on other social aspects of their lives, including the parent-child dynamic,” he remarked.
Another researcher associated with the project, Dr. Maddalena Fiordelli, added: “One of the most important findings is that the friendships formed are stronger if people have been meeting regularly in person. This confirms previous research on online social networking which tells us that social networks foster previously existing connections. From interviews we discovered that participants like to use Facebook to stay in contact with their two or three close friends during the time between two meetings”.
People with Autism often have a strong need for structure and an aversion to change in their everyday lives, and as Dr. Fiordelli explained, the research also found that “Autistic adults can benefit from a structured environment like Facebook for their relations.”
The project’s final event, in which project participants will discuss their achievements through the project, as well as how Facebook and other online social networking sites can be used to assist people with Autism to develop social connections, will take place on Thursday 29 September at the City Musem of Ljubljana, Slovenia. This event is open to media attendance.
A documentary called ACEbook – the real social network is being made during the project, and will be available for viewing shortly after the final event.
For more information, and or interviews regarding the project and final event in Ljubljana, contact Janja Kranjc at the Center for Autism Slovenia, Tel: +386 41 714 540 Email: email@example.com
For more information and or interviews regarding Autism, contact Aurelie Baranger, Director of Autism-Europe, in Brussels: Tel: +32 (0)477 705 934 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos from the ACE participant congress will be available on this link: