An open letter to group admins, from a borderline Aspie

Mobile with Facebook app and title: An open letter to group admins, from a borderline Aspie

I am not your easiest of customers.

But I’m one of the most earnest.

How you treat me has a huge influence on how I feel emotionally. But you’re also in a position to influence my behaviours towards others.

That means your reach goes way beyond the Facebook groups you manage; the advice you give me today might carry years into the future, as I interact with people both online and offline. (No pressure!)

I wanted to write to you because when I make mistakes, you can greatly influence how much my mistakes end up costing people. I’ve had some great admins who’ve steered me away from pitfalls. On the flip side, there have also been times when much pain and stress was avoidable.

So I thought I’d share a collection of thoughts in the hope we might understand each other better.

Caveats

First and foremost, I’m speaking for myself and out of my own experience as a borderline Aspie (i.e. someone with traits of Asperger’s Syndrome).

I should be clear that this post is less about Asperger’s Syndrome (or autism), and more about people who are like me, or a bit like me. Whoever they may be. I trace the roots of many of these trends to my understanding of Asperger’s, but I can’t be generalised to all Aspies.

What’s more, some people may behave and think in many of the ways that I do – but that doesn’t mean they have Asperger’s. This is not about diagnosis — this is about patterns of behaviour and ways of thinking. And besides, you may have Asperger’s or know people who are Aspies or who have autism. I respect that.

My purpose here is to offer perspectives that may help you distinguish between (a) people who don’t care about other people, and (b) people who do care about other people, but aren’t always skilled in how they express this.

I’m not trying to tell you want to do. I’m not pretending to know how being an admin is done. I’m just sharing some observations because however hard I try, I still bump into this stuff – and I know I’m not the only one.

However, if we understand each other well, I think we could be awesome allies.

Being me – things it helps to be aware of

When it comes to social context, I’m partially sighted. For example, if someone puts an idea to a room and they’re met with silence, I won’t interpret the silence. So, I’ll think the idea is still on the table until it’s explicitly rebutted or withdrawn.

I cannot abide any kind of fakery. When someone comes fishing for a compliment, or for anything actually, I will give my honest opinion. Or not respond. (I’ve learnt to do the latter more often.)

I have to be told when games are beginning and ending. I tend to come over as heavy and serious much of the time. It’s not because I don’t have a sense of humour, but because I often don’t understand how people enter into a laugh together. And nearly all of the time, I can’t tell how much of what they’re saying during joke is something they’re serious about.

I react emotionally, but differently. When I lived abroad as a teenager, I didn’t miss my family, but I did miss my dog. People who expect a particular emotional response from me often get very frustrated and angry. But I can’t be forced to feel an emotion I don’t feel and attempts to do this come to me as a consent violation.

I really care about rules. But I don’t always understand how to apply them in context.

I don’t have a good sense of proportionality. If something is wrong, it’s wrong. It took me a long time to ask questions about the impact of things being wrong, and thus assess severity.

I value content over form – and I’m unskilled at presentation. I value what something is over how it is presented. This means I don’t always appreciate how/when the method of presentation becomes part of the substance of a message. I’m less likely to know when statements will be received as having an emotional undercurrent.

I don’t always have a good sense of timing. An extension of my lack of presentation skills.

I want to fix everything. My life is exhausting – either because I’m trying to save the world or I’m living with the constant reminder that the world is not being saved right now. It doesn’t come easily for me to stand back and allow other people to do Very Important Work.

I can be overwhelming. Ask the right questions, touch on the right topic, open the door for an inch of feedback, and I will come bursting through. Even when I’m holding myself back, I can be too much for some people to handle.

What this means for you as admins

You may need to paint the social context of the group. It is really easy for me to forget the backgrounds, assumptions and needs of other people in the group. It’s not intuitive for me to remember that there are different kinds of people even within a group and that I can’t interact with them all the same way. But I learn when you take those two minutes to say, “Whoah, bear I mind, this is where people are coming from…”

When people post for encouragement, you may need to translate. So, let’s say someone posts a picture of their hair style saying, “I’ve been so down lately, but decided to give myself some self care today – what do you think?” You may need to tell me that this person is not asking for opinions, they’re looking for encouragement because they’ve been emotionally low. So, it’s not the time or place for me to unpack my theories on How Best To Do Your Hair. (In real life, I’d never give hairstyle advice, but you get the idea.) Seriously, if I throw in a stinger of a comment, maybe delete it and explain it to me privately. If I took the time to comment, I wasn’t meaning to be malicious. I just need to know what the post actually is and isn’t about.

Please go easy on me when I get serious in response to a joke. I’m not trying to pour cold water on anyone, but rather I’m anxious. It’s because I’ve seen an attitude in the joke and I don’t know how it will translate into reality once everyone’s stopped laughing. It means I don’t know where I stand. It means I feel unsafe.

If something doesn’t astonish me, please don’t call me insensitive. I don’t react the same way as most people. Actually, I count it as a strength that I can remain calm while someone is pouring out their emotions — and it doesn’t mean that I don’t care. What’s more, I’m quite introverted. I rarely disclose it when I have had a strong emotional reaction behind the keyboard.

Please don’t think me argumentative when I talk to you about the rules. I care about the rules; I care about getting them right by other people’s standards as well as my own. If I’m asking questions, it’s less about self-vindication (well, probably) and more because I don’t understand.

If I’m going on about something, it helps to ask me what it is that’s so very important. And why. If you tell me my word count is at a premium, I’ll cut to the chase and ditch talking about the things that I can live with.

Caution me from using imagery when I’m broaching the less familiar. I think in terms of images, metaphors and parallels. It’s one of my strongest gifts and communication techniques. However, when I’m asking questions in an area that’s less familiar to me, I’m vulnerable to picking problematic images – which can cause deep offence. Tell me to pitch my question as is, without parallels and without pulling in other subjects.

Steer me towards interactive communication styles. If I say, “I disagree, I think x because y…” I’m generally looking for a discussion, but (I’ve learned) people can feel affronted or condescended. So, steer me towards saying “So, what’s your take on y? Have you thought how that might lead to x?” I need you to remind me that how communicate my view on a subject, will also show something of what I think of the person I’m talking to.

Remind me that I don’t need to say everything at once. My mind races and I desperately want to get all my thoughts down. I don’t always appreciate that it can be a much more pleasant experience for all concerned if I offer one piece, receive reactions, and then offer another piece.

Please don’t tell me that I can’t fix everything. I’ve been told before. It didn’t work then either.

Remind me, and keep reminding me, that constructive comment and detailed explanations are rarely welcome without invitation. But please go easy. I might seem like a gushing stream of words, but you never hear what I stopped myself from saying. You never see the sheer volume of it. I hold back the weight of a tsunami and it’s exhausting. The most confusing thing about this is that some people really love hearing what I have to say. I can’t always tell what it is that means some people are receptive and others aren’t. (Am I ‘splaining in some form?) It’s a confusing and lonely experience, so if I get it wrong on your watch, please go easy.

Communicate your limits and hold them. I respect boundaries, but I need to be told them. And what is obvious to you is not always obvious to me. So if I transgress your boundaries, even just your soft ones, tell me that’s what I’m doing and I’ll back away.

Please entertain the possibility that my overdrive is badly-presented enthusiasm. Sometimes you’ll have to tell me to rein it in, but please be gentle. This is a personal outpouring for me and it’s tough to be told I need to contain it.

Practical strategies for Facebook

You’ll need to judge whether the above messages are best communicated in the public context of the group (via announcements or comments within discussions), or via direct message. But here are some broader, structural thoughts.

Groups that have worked really well for me are often ones where posts are moderated before they go live. It means that the tone, topic, etc can all be assessed by an experienced pair of eyes that knows the culture of the group. It’s not foolproof, but when admins have blocked my posts they’ve saved pain and embarrassment — for me and for other people.

One admin posted a free-for-all thread and tagged a whole bundle of people who had not had their posts approved. To me, it was a great way for them to say “Here’s how you can contribute your more experimental stuff on the group’s terms.”

On several occasions, admins had capacity to engage with me via PM to explain and make me more aware. I’ve really appreciated the gentleness with which this was done. I still felt utterly terrible but it meant that my relationship with the group was maintained. In one case, it meant I could go in and delete an offending comment — that was then my choice, rather than one made for me.

Specific examples on how to present discussion are fabulously helpful. One admin published some guidelines saying how they would stop content framed one way, but allow it when framed another way. I’ve seen several groups give examples of what counts as an ad hominem attack, but they don’t give examples of how to communicate more discursively (such as, asking why someone believes what they believe, instead of just stating that you disagree).

Stating how you intend to operate as an admin is also great. This was particularly helpful in one group where tensions were evidently emerging between members. By setting out their agenda, the admin not only said what they expected of members, but they also communicated to me how much support I should or should not expect in the event of a conflict. I could then judge whether I needed to leave peaceably, stay peaceably, or stay with limited interaction with the group.

It helps to be told how I can exit a group well. One admin highlighted that if people leave a group, admins have the ability to remove all of that person’s contributions from the group threads. This was useful when I quietly exited a group not long ago. The group was lovely, but I’d come to appreciate that it was intended for people other than myself and I wanted to let them get on with it, on their terms. I had shared a bundle of personal information some months previously, so it was a gift to know my old posts and comments could be scratched from the record.

Yes, you have the option of banning and blocking me without warning. And I won’t begrudge you if that’s what you need to do to maintain your personal boundaries. And I’ll try and take it as a learning experience as best I can. But if you do this, you are far more likely to confuse me than to teach me.

Concluding thoughts

You might be wondering why I think I need your help if I’m already aware of the above. Well, I still make mistakes and I still need support — and it’s not just about me.

What’s more, other people may not have had the time or life experience to learn these things; or they may have longings, vulnerabilities and learned behaviours which put them at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to their self-presentation.

And besides, part of this is about me being who I am; that’s not something I should learn away in order to ‘fit in’.

Obviously, you will have to judge for yourselves how much time and emotional labour you’re willing to invest – and I know you already invest a lot.

I know you won’t be able to cater for everyone all the time. But how you communicate with people like me makes a big difference both for our decisions to stay and our decisions to leave.

It’s possible for someone to part peaceably when they appreciate the culture of the group isn’t a good fit for their needs. But I’ve never known anyone leave peaceably when they’ve had conflict with an admin.

Maybe then it should be no surprise that the Facebook groups I love the most are also the ones where I am most able to trust the admins. I know they can contain the shots fired at me and contain me when I don’t realise the impact I’m having.

If I’m too much for you, there’s no shame in saying – and I think I’d prefer the honesty. But if you’re able and willing to keep my company, you might end up being one of the most influential people in my life.

Because what you teach me today, I’ll take with me for years to come.


For those curious to know more about autism, Amethyst Schaber has a treasure trove of YouTube videos (which I’ve only discovered recently and have only watched a few of, but it was all good).

Also, in my (8 part) series on modesty for Ezer Rising, a couple of posts touch on this topic:

  • When looking at how cultures are enforced (eg via dress codes), I looked at how to tell the difference between someone who’s controlling like Dolores Umbridge, and someone who’s mistaken.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.