If you have a family member with Autism or students with Autism, it’s essential to understand the online risks and steps you can employ to keep your loved ones safe. Autism online safety can protect your loved ones from cyberbullying, scams, explicit content exposure, and overuse of social media.
Online Risks for People With Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism online safety involves everyone because people with Autism often have challenges with communication and social interaction. Without proper countermeasures and safety measures, people with Autism might end up exposed to inappropriate material or be the victim of an online scam without realizing it. And these scams can hurt entire families, classrooms, or groups.
Overuse of Games and Social Media
Family members with autism spectrum disorder are vulnerable to compulsive social media use and gaming. Overuse of games and social media can inhibit communication and social skills. It can be difficult for individuals to shift from fantasy back to reality. People with Autism are at a higher risk for internet addiction, especially if they struggle with anxiety. The desire for repetition and compulsion can interfere with healthy internet usage.
Exposure to Explicit Content
It only takes one click for someone to end up exposed to explicit content like pornography or violence. It can be challenging to explain this explicit content to someone with autism spectrum disorder. That is especially true if they don’t understand the inappropriate nature of graphic content.
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder are at a higher risk for online scams. Scammers often target younger people because they spend so much time online and are more vulnerable. It’s essential to make it clear that information should never be shared online. Children with Autism are more likely to fall victim to scam email attempts or hacking attempts when they give out personal information.
Cyberbullying can happen to anyone, but people with Autism are easy targets because they don’t necessarily pick up on the social cues that let them know they are being bullied. Even if they do, they might be unable to communicate what’s happening or stand up for themselves. Left untreated, this can result in low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Children with disabilities are more likely to experience cyberbullying and much less likely to report it.
Steps for Keeping People With Autism Spectrum Disorder Safe Online
Some of the best steps for keeping people with Autism Spectrum Disorder safe online involve open conversations on a regular basis. Parents and teachers alike can’t prepare for every eventuality with Autism online safety. However, open discussions can pave the way for help when something unexpected or dangerous transpires.
Pictures with Reminders About Safety Rules
Family members should be given pictures with reminders about information that they cannot give out online to anyone* including:
- The name of their school,
- Their address,
- Their social security number,
- Their birthdate
One caveat here might be to always check with an adult before giving out this information on the off chance that someone is requesting a phone number or address for a school function.
Other pictures can include a list of things to do and not do. It can also include constant reminders to reach out to a parent or teacher if specific circumstances happen. It’s good to have pictures reminding them not to open attachments, not to share personal information, and to speak to an adult they trust if something makes them uncomfortable.
Role-Playing Dangerous Scenarios
Role-playing scenarios involving things like online scams or cyberbullying can help your child appreciate what it looks like. But it’s important that after each role-play, you have an open discussion about which situations are considered dangerous, why they are hazardous, and what to do with them. One way to keep people with Autism Spectrum disorders safe online is to role-play potentially dangerous situations. As you role-play cases where an online scammer or a predator might be involved, teach your family members to refer to the safety checklists by the DOJ and reach out to any adult if someone violates those checklists. Some of the dangerous situations you can role-play involve cyberbullying situations. Talk to your child about what that looks like (sharing threatening images or calling them names). Also, explain to them how they can block people on email or social media and when to speak to an adult.
Setting Up Parental Controls
Parental controls can include pop-up blockers or software that monitors online content. These steps can help limit exposure to explicit material, but open discussions about inappropriate websites and images seen online should also be integrated. Given how likely children with Autism are to struggle with internet addiction, time limits are not the only Avenue that should be pursued. There are many options available that can limit specific websites of your choosing or set up timers when a single website is visited compulsively. Parents and teachers should also set up restrictions on apps or websites. A big part of effective parental controls for autism online safety means having an adult in the room when technology or computer use takes place.
Teaching Safe Internet Behavior
You can utilize Autism online safety by establishing safe internet behavior. This looks different for everyone but can usually involve things like setting time limits on internet usage. This time limit can involve a schedule that’s posted in the home with a timer on a device or on the computer itself. The more you know as an adult, the more you can protect people with Autism Spectrum disorder. It’s also essential that, as an adult, you stay aware of what scams are most common at any given time. Some attempts can be made through email; others can happen when people try to have video chats as strangers so they can look around the room and see what’s happening or just chat conversations in a social game. The internet makes it easier for people to communicate and socialize, but it also brings with it inherent risks. Knowing those risks, especially for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, makes it easier to employ steps that keep family members safe. With preventative measures, you can ensure Autism online safety for your loved ones.