Online Safety for Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum A Parent’s and Carer’s Guide – I have had the wonderful privilege to read this book by Nicola Lonie and I have to start by saying that I have learned an awful lot about computers, the internet and social media in general, as well as the many ways in which to make the whole world wide web safer for my little boy who has ASD. At the moment he is only 6, so as yet does not have unsupervised access to the internet, we have strict parental controls set on his IPad with no Safari internet browsing allowed or access to any social media sites, but this time will surely come, and so therefore I want to arm myself with as much information as possible now. This book has allowed me to do so.
The book description is as follows:
“Children and teens with autism can be particularly vulnerable to online dangers and this practical handbook explains how you can help your child to navigate websites, chat rooms and social media safely.
Providing all the information needed to monitor, educate and guide your child’s computer use, the book discusses key concerns such as parental control, social networking, grooming, cyberbullying, internet addiction and hacking. The risks and the warning signs to look out for are clearly explained alongside useful advice and examples from real-life experiences. A Digispeak Dictionary is included that decodes the cryptic language of online slang and there are downloadable forms to help record your child’s internet use.”
Firstly this book is incredibly easy to understand and read. So if your knowledge about the computers or the internet is limited, then this book will explain the basics to you in language that is easy to understand.
The book begins by discussing the pros and cons of using the computer in relation to autism and I very much liked this balanced approach from the author. Computers and the internet have much to offer, although caution and knowledge about how they work, is needed. What I particularly like is that she highlights the fact that autistic children are visual learners and that this is very similar to the way in which a computer works, which is why children on the spectrum can engage with them, and benefit from their use. Therefore we as parents need to encourage this positivity, but at the same time be aware of the risks and be armed with the knowledge of how to tackle any problems if and when they occur.
Every chapter in this book is packed with advice for parents and carers of children with autism, but to be honest I believe that this book would be beneficial to any parent out there.
Two areas of this book I found hugely interesting, and I will briefly highlight them. The first is to do with cyberbullying, something which is on the increase and which has been highlighted by various charities and campaigners. The book states:
‘Between 8% and 34% of children and young people in the UK have been cyberbullied, and girls are twice as likely to experience persistent cyberbullying than boys,’ (Department of Health, 2011)’
The author also highlights that autistic children are more at risk of being cyberbullied as many will not know the signs or even realize that they are victims of such a crime. The use of mobile technology, such as tablets and mobile phones is also linked to this risk as this technology can now be accessed anywhere with greater access to social media platforms. It is clearly pointed out in the book though, that having access to social media is be a good thing, as this gives the child the ability to communicate and socially engage with others, something that they may have difficulty doing face to face. However, parents need to know the signs to look out for if they suspect that their child is being bullied online. The author goes into great detail about this and what we as parents can do.
Finally the many issues of mobile technology and, in particular smart phones, are discussed. Shockingly ‘41% with an active profile say they mostly use a mobile phone to visit their main social networking site profile.’
Therefore as the author explains, it is important that you talk to your child about the associated risks of using social media sites on their phone, such as ‘tagging’ friends and the ‘check in’ feature that many social media sites have. What I also did not know, was that you can download mobile safety software, so that you can track your child’s activity, phone use and block any sites that you do not want them to access, something that I will be looking into when my son is older.
So in essence I highly recommend this book to all parents out there whose child accesses the internet and who has a mobile device or access to a computer.
About the author
Nicola Lonie has over 10 years’ experience working for a large autism charity as IT specialist and Webmaster. She has designed and presented online safety courses to children with autism and ADHD at schools. She currently works on a self-employed basis as a web designer and computer consultant. She is the mother of a teenage son with autism and she lives in Northamptonshire, UK.