Q&A Section – Should you let your child use social media?

This is the question of the month as featured in Issue Number 9

Question: Can social media help my teen? Should I allow my child to use social media?


A Note from the Editor:

Dear Parents and Guardians,

While I do support the use of social media to help teens and even adults build friendships, I do want to make sure that you set up guidelines for your child’s computer usage. Giving children a clear set of what is expected of them is important. All too often I will hear how kids put inappropriate pictures on the internet or type things that can get them into trouble. Please make sure you sit your child down and explain how careful they must be when using the computer. I recommend hanging a list of acceptable Do’s and Don’ts near the computer as a reminder.

Leslie A. Burby

Social Media and Autism

By Quinton Williams

We all know the negative effects of social media, where our kids are exposed to things we do not want them exposed to.  The kids might establish relationships we do not want them to establish.  We could keep going about the negatives with social media, but what are the positives?  Can social media help teenage boys with Autism work on their social skills?  The simple answer is yes.

Teenage boys are going through so many things socially and physically, and when you put Autism on top of that there is a lot to handle.  Each teenage boy is different, just like each student with Autism is different, you may have a child who is mute and you may have a child that loves to talk.  Social media can help in both cases.

If you have a teenage boy who is mute with Autism it makes it very difficult to make friends at school.  If this student is able to have a Facebook he may realize he is not the only one like himself out there.  The student will be able to express their thoughts and feelings without having to speak.  This will hopefully lead to confidence, thus making them more sociable in the classroom, especially if they can establish a relationship online with a classmate.   Not only will they establish relationships, but Facebook has support groups for the students to try new strategies if they are uncomfortable with speaking in front of someone.  This is just one tip of how social media might help this particular student.


Now you have a teenage boy who has Autism that speaks, but has poor social skills.  With Face time and Facebook, these students will post what is on their mind and may realize they cannot just say whatever is on their mind.  There are boundaries when you speak in public, which relates to manners.  With Face time the student will be able to interact with someone that may have gone through the same situation and find out how they used their manners when speaking in public.

These examples show one extreme to the other when it comes to Autism, but even if you have a student that has some signs of both, social media can really build confidence, which will let their personality shine!  It is important that other people know their personality because this may establish lifelong friendships.

Leslie Burby

    Leslie Burby

    Leslie Burby is the former Editor-in-Chief of Autism Parenting Magazine and a public speaker on autism related issues. She is the author of three autism related books: Emotional Mastery for Adult's with Autism (2013); Early Signs of Autism in Toddlers, Infants and Babies (2014); and the children's book Grace Figures Out School (2014).

  • Avatar Sarah says:

    What about autistic girls?

  • Avatar Jen says:

    It’s too bad that there wasn’t also some acknowledgement of the challenges that teenage girls on the spectrum face. It only takes a few minutes of talking to any adult autistic women to realize that there are huge challenges for young women and social media, especially surrounding sexuality.

    I do think that social media can be very useful, and positive, but especially as a parent of teenagers, some concrete tips as to how to help your child navigate those successfully might be useful. Be aware that social media posts are going to last forever (you can delete the account, but they’re also very often searchable), and can have repercussions beyond what you might expect. Especially on larger sites like FB or twitter, one inappropriate post or comment can lead to excess bullying, etc. And FB/Tumblr/Twitter is so popular with a lot of high school students now that the consequences of a ‘bad’ post aren’t really theoretical any more.

    All of my teenagers were diagnosed with autism at a very young age, and they have various needs, desires, and potential issues with social media. We’ve generally taken a ‘less is more’ strategy, at least to start with. Their social media accounts run through one of my email addresses, so not only do I get notifications of everything that they do on that site, but I have to supervise them in making ‘friend requests’, posting statuses etc.

    One of my daughters’ “special interests” is school/community yearbooks, so she will try to friend anyone who has been in a community school yearbook for the last 30 or so years- not all of those people are going to be willing, or even accepting, of her friend requests, and (horrible as it is), it only takes one ‘popular’ person on FB making a status saying “I hate spec. ed students’ to make things life much more difficult for her. We also have a rule that she needs to check in with us before she posts any photos or statuses- she’s a very attractive young woman, so random ‘I want to see pictures of you’ requests means something different to her than it does to us, because she doesn’t get the sexual component at all. So that daughter has two FB accounts- one under her own name, where she has to run everything by us before she posts it, has chat turned off, and can only be ‘friends’ or ‘chat’ with people that we know. We’ve also adjusted her privacy settings so that her posts/photos etc. aren’t visible on searching. The other is more laissez faire- following groups/people/musicians that she ‘likes’, and she knows that she can’t make posts or comments using her real name.

    Another (more superfically NT) daughter made an unadvised statement in grade 7 in a chat room, and the next thing we knew her MSN messenger (this was quite a few years ago) was not only overrun with strangers, but a photoshopped (supposedly nude) pic of her was making the international rounds. We were lucky that our school board was very invested in cyber-bullying, and it’s pretty rare that the pic shows up now, but it was certainly an eye-opener.

    Things like twitter, reddit etc. can be even more concerning, especially if you’re not being proactive about personally identifiable information. Most people online don’t care enough about any individual to notice too much if someone says something inappropriate etc., but things can go badly very quickly.

    I do think that online life, and social media, can be very, very useful to autistic people (and almost everyone, in my opinion). In the best case scenario, online life gives you a chance to process and formulate responses, and doesn’t require the immediate deciphering of social cues. I’ve found that online interactions can often not only be more fulfilling, but considerably more honest than a lot of day to day interactions in the ‘real world’ , but I think that we’re missing a big part of the picture if we also don’t recognize the dangers. Being online may be a very valid and useful aspect of inclusion, and social interaction, but it can also be a minefield. I don’t particularly enjoy or agree with having to be the ‘gatekeeper’ for some of my kids, but I think that can be preferable and useful compared to some of the consequences. I’d always prefer to be more hands off when possible, but in terms of my kids having a mostly positive social media experience, I’ve found that it can be a bit more useful if there’s some protection for them.

  • Avatar Max. says:

    It is a long, long time since I was a teenager. Aspergers, but nobody knew about it then.
    What we now call “Social Media” didn’t exist either so is hard to judge how I would have acted.
    However I believe I would have been interested, first of all, from the technical point of view. Finding perhaps one other person (teenager or young adult) who was easy to talk with, and with similar outlook might have been encouraging. I suppose the correct word there should be “non-threatening”. Like all good Aspies, I liked one good friend.
    I do wonder about the ready availability of undesirable download material and influences however. I do remember those coming-into-puberty years and the necessity of good mentoring. My father had died … my grandfather stood-in for him but the role model in the home itself is important.

    I’d say “yes” to social media, but with strong suitable “stand-in” role model.


  • Avatar Geof Kenah says:

    Having a teen boy who is now on Facebook, I can attest to the dangers associated with them saying whats on their mind without realising the consequences. My son recent saw a funny Meme about having a crush on someone, He shared this meme and added the comment, “This is so funny, I can relate, I have had a crush on Personx for so long and she has no idea.”

    You can imagine the fallout…He is now so embarrassed that he no longer wants anything to do with facebook or social media, which is a shame as it does help him express himself. I have suggested that he posts to us first, if we comment “OK to share” he shares it. This has helped but will get old real fast.

  • Avatar James oleary says:

    We must instill trust and maintain consistent oral communication. Enjoyed the presentation!!!

  • Avatar Coby says:

    We have a saying in our family, “Autism is no excuse.” What we mean by that is that we have to interact appropriately with others in social situations in both a positive and negative sense. In a positive sense, we have to learn to talk and behave appropriately as far as we are able. We have to deal with people, just like everybody else. It’s not our strong point, but the extra work is worth it. In a negative sense, there are things we can’t do, and it’s worth learning how not to do them and learn alternative ways. I guess that helps me learn several lessons from the article and the comments. One is that social media is sometimes worth it. Another is that it takes extra work to learn how to use it. And another one is that sometimes, just like everyone, we have to cut our losses and back away from the social media. To me, the worst problem with it is not the dangers but the distraction. For every post by a stalker and every faux pas, there are 99 posts that simply waste your time and fill your head with stupid ideas. In-person interaction is harder, but it is also better, and, like everyone else, we need to treat social media the same way we treat dessert at meals. You wouldn’t eat candy for the main course, and you shouldn’t get all your social interaction on Facebook.

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