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5 things to check if your autistic child is on social media

For parents of children with autism, the digital landscape presents unique challenges and opportunities. Social media can be a valuable tool for social interaction, but it also requires careful navigation to ensure the safety and well-being of vulnerable children. 

Mark Blakey, a writer for Autism Parenting Magazine, outlines five crucial aspects parents should monitor to help their children with autism use social media safely and positively.

1. Ensuring Online Safety

Mark emphasizes the critical importance of maintaining a safe online environment for children with autism. ‘Use apps and platforms with robust security features,’ he advises. For example, setting up a Facebook profile with the privacy setting "Friends Only" for all posts can prevent strangers from accessing your child’s personal information. Tools like Google's Family Link or Apple's Screen Time can also help parents monitor and control their child's device usage.

2. Managing Privacy Settings

Privacy settings are your first defense in protecting your child's personal information. Mark suggests, ‘Ensure that privacy settings are adjusted so that posts are only visible to friends, not friends of friends or the public. Teach your child not to share personal information such as their address, school, or phone number.’ Regular reviews of these settings can help maintain a secure environment as platform policies and features change. He also recommends using platforms that allow parents to control who can send friend requests or messages, such as Messenger Kids, which requires parental approval for contacts.

3. Detecting Cyberbullying

Children with autism can be particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying due to difficulties in understanding social cues and navigating interpersonal relationships. Mark stresses the importance of open communication: ‘Talk to your child about their online interactions and check in frequently to see how they feel about the conversations they're having. Tools like Bark or Net Nanny can help by alerting parents to potential bullying incidents through keyword detection and monitoring social media interactions. Encourage them to report any negative interactions immediately.’ Parents should watch out for the signs of cyberbullying—withdrawal, changes in mood, or reluctance to use social media. 

4. Fostering Healthy Online Interactions

Promoting positive social interactions online is vital. ‘Guide your child in understanding the nuances of online communication, like the tone of messages and the use of emojis,’ says Mark. Role-playing different scenarios can prepare them for real interactions. Encourage your child to participate in online groups focusing on their interests, such as a Minecraft server for autism-friendly gamers. These specialized groups can offer a supportive environment where your child can interact with peers who have similar interests and challenges.

5. Promoting Digital Literacy

Digital literacy is more than just knowing how to use technology—it’s about understanding how to use it responsibly. ‘Teach your child the norms of digital etiquette, the permanence of their digital footprint, and the implications of sharing content online,’ Mark explains. Regular discussions about the credibility of online information and the importance of critical thinking online can empower children with autism to navigate digital spaces more effectively. This can be reinforced through educational resources like Common Sense Media, which offers guides and tips for safe internet usage.

‘Social media opens up a world of possibilities for children with autism to connect and learn, but it also requires parents to be proactive in managing the potential risks,’ Mark concludes. ‘By actively monitoring your child’s social media use, educating them about online interactions, and promoting an open dialogue about their online experiences, you can significantly enhance your child's safety and enjoyment of digital spaces. This proactive involvement is crucial in ensuring that social media is a tool for positive growth rather than a source of risk.’ 

About Autism Parenting Magazine

Autism Parenting Magazine is an award-winning publication dedicated to improving the lives of families affected by autism worldwide. Established in 2012, the magazine provides objective coverage of autism-related topics, events, treatments, and success stories, offering a valuable resource for parents seeking informed decisions and the latest therapeutic options. With contributions from professionals, autism experts, and individuals on the spectrum, the magazine fosters a supportive community while advocating for understanding, acceptance, and individualized approaches to autism care.


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