The Internet has been a game changer. It is estimated that 95% of teenagers aged 12-17 are online.While the Internet has connected us to others and made information much more accessible, it also poses a tremendous potential threat to your child’s safety if left to his/her own devices.Essentially, the Internet presents us a means by which we can teach important safety skills to our children with autism.
Skills such as howto avoid revealing confidential information about ourselves, and how to avoid becoming a victim of cyber bullying, just to name a couple.Individuals with autism may be particularly vulnerable to such threats, so being proactive is critical if you are a parent of a child with autism.This article provides simple ways to keep your child with autism safe when it comes to the Internet.
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Tip #1: Be Proactive
Make sure you can monitor your child’s access to the Internet.This means ensuring computers that have access to the Internet are in what may be described as high traffic areas.It means making sure all devices that have access to the Internet are also monitored, such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops. In my home, the computer and tablets are only accessible on the main floor where I can see and hear what my children are doing at any given time.
You may also want to consider using tracking software to monitor the types of sites your child is accessing and using that information as teachable moments.Your Internet service provider should be able to help you identify software that would be appropriate for your unique needs.You should also consider establishing some boundaries on the length of time your child can use the Internet and when.For example, it is a good idea to set a curfew for how late children can use the Internet and when they should return the devices into you for safe keeping.
It may be helpful for some children and/or teenagers if there is a visual schedule to help depict when the devices are no longer available.Finally, make sure you have enabled the maximum level of privacy settings for all of the mediums in which your child interacts.Whether the child is posting on social media or YouTube, make sure it’s not easy to find out who the child is and a home address by setting up privacy settings accordingly.
Tip #2: Teach Safe Internet Behavior
Here are a few important safety skills related to using the Internet:
1. Teach your child to never give out identifying information such as social security number, address or phone numbers.
2. Teach your child to never send pictures to people he/she does not know
3. Teach your child how to post on social media in a ͞professional͟ manner that does not put him/her at risk for criticism
4. Learn how͞ “not” to respond to inappropriate posts of others
5. Learn how to respond to a lure from a stranger on the Internet (e.g., to tell you or another adult and not respond to the stranger)
Once you have determined there is a skill to teach related to Internet safety, the next step is to actually go and teach it to your child with autism.One framework that has been used time and time again is what I like to call the ͞”Say – Show – Do – Check In͟” framework. This framework has been shown time and time again to be effective at teaching all kinds of important skills, even safety skills to children and teenagers with autism.
The key is to include the four parts:
Say: This means that first you are going to tell your child what it is they are going to learn.For example, if I am going to teach my child what to do if they are approached by a stranger online, then I would tell him/her this:
If someone tries to get you to meet or asks for private information about yourself, then you will:
1. Leave the computer/device
2. Find a familiar adult (e.g., teacher or parent)
3. Tell us about what happened
Show: Once you have told your child the steps, then you Show him/her.This means that you will literally pretend to be in a situation where an adult tries to get private information from you and you follow the steps described.
Do: Once you have shown them, then you have them Do the steps.
Check In: After the child has practiced the steps, then you can Check In with them on how it went. If the child did all of the steps, then praise him/her.If he/she only did one of the steps, or if they missed some steps, let him/her know what was done well and remind him/her of the steps missed.Keep practicing until it can be done without any extra help. It is absolutely critical that you get your child to practice until he/she is confident in doing it. The research is clear on this point, some children with autism must practice the skill we are trying to teach, it is absolutely not enough to just tell them and show them how to do it.Essentially, practice makes perfect!
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Tip #3: Communicate With Your Child
Using the Internet can bean opportunity to connect with your child as well.Spend quality time with your child as he/she surfs the Internet as this will give you important information about the types of things your child interested in but also allows you to be a part of it with them.It may also allow you to see who they are connecting with on line and help you establish rules for how to interact with those other people on line.
The Internet presents a unique opportunity for our children with autism to socialize and access information in ways they would never have been able to without it.However, it also poses unique threats to his/her safety.Using the tips described above you may be able to make them less vulnerable.Keeping your child with autism safe is what it is all about!
This article was featured in Issue 60 – Sensory Tools For The Future