Updated: Oct 6, 2021
The internet is an incredible resource whether you're seeking information, communicating digitally, or making friends and playing games online. But for children on the autism spectrum, the internet can be a dangerous place. Children with autism are more likely to be victims of cyberbullying, to share personal information online, or to become addicted to internet use.
These six tips from Blue Minds will help parents implement common sense safety measures that let children experience all the internet has to offer minus the risks.
1. Read up on online safety threats
Do you know the most common types of identity theft today or how to protect your mobile devices from viruses and malware? Keeping your child safe online starts with educating yourself about digital security and taking basic steps to prevent online threats. These include using strong passwords and two-factor authentication, installing antivirus software, and downloading security updates on schedule. You can easily purchase software solutions that encompass a variety of security features through stores like Best Buy. And if you shop online, you can usually save a few bucks through extra promotions.
2. Teach safe internet behavior
There are some online safety rules every child should know, like never sharing identifying information online, buying things without permission, or sending pictures to strangers. These rules are especially important for children with autism who may be more trusting of people they meet online. Make a visual checklist of information your child shouldn't share online and encourage them to use avatars and nicknames rather than their actual name.
3. Set privacy controls on social media
Strong privacy settings are an important safety measure against identity theft, cyberbullying, and other online threats. Privacy settings on social media networks like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube make it so users need permission before viewing your child's profile.
4. Talk about cyberbullying
Children with autism are susceptible to bullying, including cyberbullying. While utilizing privacy settings limits opportunities for online bullies to target your child, it's important to discuss what cyberbullying looks like and how to respond if it happens. You should also work with your child on building their self-confidence. As ZenBusiness notes, 80 percent of self-evaluations for most people are negative. If your child has negative thoughts about themselves, they may be more likely to take bullying or cyberbullying comments to heart. Find ways to work with them on building their self-confidence to give them another layer of defense against bullying.
Children with autism may also perpetuate cyberbullying themselves. In that scenario, parents should get to the root cause of the issue ‑ is your child cyberbullying in retaliation, or is the behavior unprompted? Is your child the instigator or following another child's lead? After identifying your child's motivation for cyberbullying, explain why their behavior is harmful and impose appropriate consequences like restricted internet privileges.
5. Implement screen time limits
Children with autism are particularly vulnerable to compulsive internet use. While the internet can be a positive outlet for children on the spectrum, it can also become an unhealthy replacement for in-person interaction. Children are less likely to fixate on games, social media, and other online entertainment when parents set clear limits on screen time and locate computers in common areas where usage is easily monitored. Many parents find that using timers helps children with autism transition away from screen time.
6. Role play common online scenarios
These precautions go a long way to keeping kids with autism safe online, but they're not foolproof. Children also need to understand how to respond if they encounter inappropriate content, cyberbullying, or other online threats. Role playing is a great way to develop your child's thinking skills and give autistic kids the social tools they need to protect themselves online. Practice how your child should respond to cyberbullying, phishing attempts, illegal content, and other risky scenarios.
The internet is a powerful tool for communication and connection, particularly for children with autism who may struggle with social interaction. However, while the internet has a lot to offer kids with autism, it's not without risks. Make sure you're taking steps to keep your child safe online so they can reap the benefits of digital exploration safely.