Social Media Part 4 – Tips for parents whose autistic children are using social media

Social MediaEditor’s Note: This is the last 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.  

It can often be difficult for parents of children with autism to understand how their child might behave on-line, or why they might want to do most of their socialising this way.  But it is something that they need to understand because it’s becoming more and more common.  Below are some tips on how parents can deal with these sorts of circumstances.

  • Try to understand the internet and social media:  if you just think of it as something that has no relation to your life, or the lives of your family then it is impossible for you to fully understand it.  Parents hear stories about the dangers of certain sites, and forbid their children from using them, despite having absolutely no experience of that site.  Just because the internet might seem scary to you as a parent – maybe because you are not used to using it – doesn’t mean it will be an unpleasant place for your child.
  • Respect your child`s right to socialise: social media is just that – a social thing.  If your child feels more comfortable talking to people on-line, and conducting their friendships that way, then let them.  Support them, and don’t stand in their way.
  • Educate them on the dangers that can be on-line:  of course there are a lot of people on-line trying to take advantage of others.  And there are certain parts of the internet you don’t want your children to go to, but explain to them in as much detail as you can – teach them signs to look out for when something isn’t quite right.
  • Depending on their level of understanding, try to guide them as much as you can:  Go on-line, and use some social media yourself.  Ty to get used to how it works, and try to see how useful you might have found it when you were a child or teenager.
  • Understand how many positives there might be for a young person with autism going on-line:  see the points covered in the first article – these include freedom, better opportunities to socialise and communicate with others, the ability to explore their special interests, and being able to spend a lot of time alone, without being cut-off from the rest of the world.
  • Try to steer them towards more recognised sites such as Twitter and Facebook, rather than have them go on random chat-rooms:  And make them aware that all sites have their dangers, no matter how familiar.
  • A place to escape to: A lot of people have computers in the family room so they can keep an eye on their children while they are using the computer.  This makes sense, but the problem with this for someone with autism is that it means they can’t have any time on their own.  For example, if they have returned from school, and are very stressed and just want to play their games or chat to their friends in peace, and they have siblings or parents wanting to use the computer as well – and possibly making a lot of noise in the background – it would be very difficult for the young person with autism to relax properly.  Parents might feel safer if the computer is where they can see it, but if at all possible, having a computer or lap-top in their room would probably be ideal for most people with autism as it gives them somewhere to escape to.
  • Personal space with their computer: As well as teaching them about on-line safety, and trying to ensure they have to easiest time possible, also be willing to step back and give them some space.  Younger people tend to have a much better grasp of the internet than older people, and lots – not all, but a reasonable amount – of autistic people feel very at home on-line, and spend a lot of time there.  Of course as a parent you don’t want your child to be exposed to things such as bullying or paedophiles, but if you think about it, they can be exposed to these very same things every time they walk out of the door.  At least when they are on-line they can log-off anytime they want, as well as keeping a record of everything anyone says to them, in case they do need to report something to the police.

Continues here.