The digital as prosthesis

The role of social media in autistic people's lives


  • Débora Antunes Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Alexander Dhoest University of Antwerp


Autism in Brazil, Social Media, Cognitive Prosthesis, Disability Studies


Autistic people usually experience difficulties in communication and social interaction and, as social relations are marked by rules that privilege those with mainstream brains, social media play an important role in mediating communication for autistic people. To investigate these processes and observe how digital media can be seen as a cognitive prosthesis, we carried out a digital ethnographic study involving Brazilian online communities about autism and for autistic people, triangulating data via participant observation and online interviews. By doing so, we observed how social media provide a more controllable environment in which autistic people can better communicate and interact with similar others as well as with “neurotypical” people. While for many people digital media may augment interaction and expand the capabilities of the human brain, for autistic people it offers the chance of being part of a society that often excludes them, although it also comes with risks.


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