Autism and the Internet
Autism affects how a child makes sense of the world, and how they relate to and communicate with others.
For children and young people on the autism spectrum the internet can provide real opportunities for social interaction and learning as it removes some of the challenges of face to face communication.
Despite this, they can be additionally vulnerable to risks online. Communication and social interaction difficulties mean that children and young people on the autism spectrum may:
- Interpret communication literally. Young people on the autism spectrum may take things literally. This means they may not be able to identify the hidden meaning behind certain phrases or even understand the difference between fact and fiction. This is a vital skill when using the internet, where anybody can post content and it can be difficult for your child to determine whether it's true or not, which may lead to be easily manipulated by others.
- Have difficulty in interpreting social cues. Many young people on the autism spectrum prefer interacting over a computer than face to face. Using social networks safely, however, can be particularly difficult for them as they may struggle to interpret online chat or spot the signs of abuse.
- Develop intense interests. It is common for people on the autism spectrum to develop intense interests or specialist knowledge in a particular topic as a way of helping them cope with everyday life. Areas of interest vary and depend on the person’s preferences, but computers is one of the more common interests. This means that people will tend to spend significantly more time on computers than on other activities. This can increase their vulnerability to becoming involved in cybercrime and being exploited as a ‘computer hacker’ by others.
Many children on the autism spectrum struggle to interpret their own emotions and recognise risky situations. It’s important that you set clear boundaries for them online and communicate these in a way they will understand, clearly setting out what’s ok and what’s not ok.