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Cybersafety: Extra Risk for Those with ASD


Individuals with ASD often experience difficulties which make them more at risk to be deceived, bullied or even stalked via the internet than their same-aged peers.

They may have:

  • A social – emotional maturity level that lags far behind their intellectual capability. Sophisticated use of language may make them appear older than they are.
  • A tendency to think in “black and white” terms which often leads them to believe what they see (read) with no appreciation of the subtleties of “truth” telling that can be found on the internet.
  • A tendency to become over focussed on one aspect of a website (for example in an online, interactive game) which can result in over- looking social cues that would make others suspicious (e.g. too many personal questions from another player).
  • A paucity of real life friendships which may make them more eager to willingly engage with an stranger posing as an internet “friend”.

In addition to the standard “cyber safety” protocols for children and teenagers found on public library sites, pediatric websites and school district websites, you may need to spend extra time teaching the student with ASD concrete and explicit rules for staying safe on the internet. The website, Common Sense, has great, easy to understand information on internet safety that you may be able to adapt for your child or student with ASD.

Consider the following tips:

Teach and practice safe-surfing

Spend time with the individual when he is online. Point out “red flags” that indicate sites may not be the best source of information or that may be trying to get personal information or money (e.g., pop up ads that offer free prizes). Have browser settings that screen out potentially unsavoury sites. Ensure you use a reliable anti-virus, anti-spyware system. For young children you may want to install Zac Browser. The browser is free and is available for the PC, MacIntosh and iPad.

See the review in PC World Magazine.

Personalize and supervise

The rules you set up need to be at the student’s level. Negotiate clear rules that are simple to understand and easy to remember. If the student is using e-mail, Google, social networking sites (e.g., Facebook) or is playing online interactive games, it will be critical for him to understand the most basic privacy rule: never give out personal information (phone numbers, addresses, birthdates, social insurance numbers, banking information to those who request in online. If in doubt, check with a trusted adult. Teach the individual how to use privacy settings or set them yourself.

Teach the student to stay with friends

Entering chat rooms or having online interactions with strangers in a multi-player game are risky behaviours for many folks, but particularly so for those with ASD who may tend to believe what the stranger writes and may answer his new “friend’s” questions truthfully. Rule of thumb… a friend is someone you have met personally and see regularly.

For more information:

For more information on personalizing an internet safety plan for the individual with an ASD, we found a great article by John Thomas on the Autism Society of North Carolina’s website.