Social Media Part 3 – Negative aspects of autistic young people using social media

Social MediaEditor’s Note: This is the third article in a series of four about Social Media for teens and young autistic adults as well as advice to parents. Paddy-Joe, our resident young autistic adult reporter explores the pros and cons of using Social Media as well as things for parents to consider – both in sharing stories about their children with autism (the first in the series) and how to monitor and assist a child in the use of Social Media. While the articles have a focus on autism, the advice is universal.  Look for the last in the series this Thursday.

In my last article I talked about how positive social media can be for young people with autism, as well as the world in general.  But, as with any innovation, there are always dangers.  One of the things that makes the internet so good is the freedom to explore, to find virtually anything you want with just the click of a button.  But of course the fact that there is so much out there means that not all of it is going to be good.

The most obvious and well documented danger is paedophiles.  Anyone can impersonate someone else with a fake email address and a picture.  This is dangerous for anybody, but especially for somebody with autism who might be more trusting.  There are ways to search if a picture has been taken from another page (it’s probably best to look up on google how to do this) also, advising young people to stay on recognised social media sites rather than going in to chat rooms would probably be best.  As long as children are educated, and capable of understanding what is, and what isn’t, an acceptable way for somebody to behave, then they should be ok.  The parents just have to make a judgement call as to whether their child is capable of understanding this or not.

Another danger that is often encountered by autistic people is on-line bullying, and trolling.  This is a difficult subject as there is not much that can be done really, other than to report the abuse, block the person, and ignore it.  This is difficult for a lot of people to take, and they often feel that there should be something more, but the fact is that whenever anybody puts their face out there on the internet, they make themselves a target.   Generally trolls will only stick to somebody who gives them a reaction.  If you don’t react they tend not to bother.  It is obviously worth the young person telling their parents, or somebody else, about the bullying, but until things change it is something that they have to get through the best they can.  Hopefully something will happen about it in the future, but for now it remains a very unfortunate part of on-line life.  It is hard to deal with, but if it is happening you have to remember that it is not actually anything to do with you; the kind of people who spend their time on line insulting other people will insult anybody.  They might pick somebody with autism in particular though, simply because it give them a few easy insults to throw.

Another danger of course is that the child, or young person with autism might get used to living their life through a screen, and might think that they don’t need to bother socialising, or communicating with people in the real world.  This isn’t something that happens very often – despite what people seem to think – but, depending on the age of the child, putting a time limit on the amount of time they can spend on the computer, and still encouraging them to go out and do things in the real world, is advisable.

There is also a lot of negative information about autism on-line, things that are put up by people who are being deliberately offensive, or are just ignorant.  Reading some of this may make young people, who are already anxious about their autism, feel even worse about themselves – words such as epidemic or disease are not particularly comforting to read about yourself.  Young people need to understand that the internet allows everybody to voice their opinions – some of these will be good, and some will be bad – and it is important not to let them get to you.

Like everything else, there are positives and negatives to social media.  The important thing is to find ways to deal with the negatives, and make them manageable and safe, rather than letting them overwhelm all of the positives that can come out of young people with autism using social media.  The internet as a whole is full of unpleasant things, but that doesn’t mean that people should stop using it, or that it is in any way bad for people to use.  It should be the same for autistic people as it is for everybody else.   And it is worth remembering that everything comes with negatives, and this shouldn’t stand in the way of what somebody wants to do.