Autism research - helping to forge real-life friendships through Facebook

Tuesday, 05 April 2011


Thirty people with autism from around Europe who have been chatting online since September 2009 are to meet up at Oxford Brookes at the Autism Connections Europe (ACE) international meeting starting on April 7.

Thirty people with autism from around Europe who have been chatting online since September 2009 are to meet up at Oxford Brookes at the Autism Connections Europe (ACE) international meeting starting on April 7.

Psychologists at Oxford Brookes University are attempting to discover whether Facebook can help people with autism develop skills for making strong friendships face-to-face.

The meeting will last three days and, as part of that, a conference will be taking place on April 9 which is open to the public, health professionals or anyone else with an interest in this area.

Dr John Lawson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Oxford Brookes, organised the four-day event in two parts: the conference on Saturday April 9 where the research project will be discussed while the three-day meeting itself will focus on tours and trips for the participants in which to cement their friendships.

Autism is characterised by poor communication and interaction skills and those with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) – which include Asperger’s Syndrome – find it easier to make friends online.

The project set out to discover whether the soft skills developed online can be transferred to real-world relationships.

The theme of the conference is ‘Understanding the Spectrum’. The conference will include talks from Dr Lawson; Emma Sumner who is a research student from the Oxford Brookes Autism Research Group; Simon Wallace, European Director of Autism Speaks and Sarah Hewitt, a woman with Asperger’s syndrome who will speak about her experiences of the condition. The event is free and open to all.

“This project was about setting up a framework where we could connect people through Facebook and support them and see them through to making real-life friendships,” explains Dr Lawson.

“We are tracking participants’ social communication skills and measuring things like feelings of wellbeing, happiness and the quality of the friendships they are building as the project unfolds.”

The results from the questionnaires filled in by the participants during the three-day meet will be published in June.

For more details about the ACE meeting, please visit the event website.