BACK IN THE day when I had a ‘real’ job I was never one for ‘water cooler’ conversations.
I found them pointlessly repetitive. The people you work with rarely changed their views, and I was much happier just getting on with my job.
These days I’m a part-time entrepreneur and full-time carer for two autistic teens, with the caring outweighing the entrepreneuring over the Christmas break.
My kids have high needs, so this break myself and my husband have focused on them intensely, organising our days around their needs and interests. We don’t go calling into friends or relatives to exchange gifts or Christmas greetings. We discourage anyone from visiting us and instead take the kids up to mountains for fresh air and long walks, then cook and stay in together each night.
It could be very isolating, and yet thanks to the wonder of social media we manage to stay very connected.
With Facebook, I have a community of fellow parents of special needs kids I chat to on and off all day. We share links to interesting stuff we read online and comment on it, ask each other tech questions about the various iDevices our kids all use, and help each other out with a virtual hug or a giggle when we need it.
Wipe this, cut that
Now before you judge, I am not a neglectful parent. But stay-at-home parenting can be mind-numbingly boring and it helps to be able to chat to other adults in between the wipe this, cut that, where is my?
It can be seriously helpful too. Just last week a friend was wondering whether to bring her son into A&E with a High Temperature, which is a huge deal for an autistic child on a Friday night in Dublin.
While she waited for CareDoc to call back, friends posted advice on cooling and reducing the fever. The doctor came and basically did all we had suggested and he was fine. So you see, it’s not just frivolous – it’s nurturing.
And then we come to Twitter. If Facebook is my virtual support group, then Twitter is the coffee maker in the annoying little kitchen where no one wants to buy fresh milk or wash up the cups. But rather than being stuck with the same people with the same fixed opinions, I get to meet and chat with a myriad of different folks – who I might empathise with on one issue, but virulently disagree with on others.
This is where I get a break from being a Special Mum. Sure, I connect with parents and professionals concerned with disabilities, but I spend far more time chatting to “normal” folk who work in advertising, politics, film making, medicine, education new media, old media, art, farming and journalism.
In fact my last five “@” tweets (where you are conversing directly with another person) were with a PR, a pharmaceutical engineer, an Irish Times journalist, a games developer and the host of Ireland’s premier current affairs show. (And a Happy New Year to you too Miriam.)
It is open, honest and often very very funny. I often find myself laughing out loud.(Although I never type LOL, preferring the more onomatopoeic “hehehehehehe”)
If anyone gets annoying, I block them. Same goes for Facebook. Annoying posts are hidden. Offensive people are blocked and reported. Sometimes I might get into a conversation that starts out interesting but disintegrates into belligerent bickering. I just unfollow or mute.
And that is the beauty of social media. In my old life, if I found workplace banter annoying or worse, offensive, I still had to politely engage and tolerate it, because ignoring people can make you look like a weirdo. You’re not considered a ‘team player’ and will antagonise those who live for the office ‘craic’ and consider it a prerequisite for career progression (ugh).
But in this online community I know I always have a choice. Don’t feed the troll, don’t engage with the letch, the bigot, the pedant and the contradicting “office bitch”.
My computer has an off switch and I know how to use it.
Lisa Domican is a Wicklow based mother of two autistic children. She developed a simple picture communication app in collaboration with a successful games developer that allows non verbal people with autism and other disabilities to communicate effectively. Learn more about the app here.