Social media can be a helpful tool in building social connections for teenagers with autism. However, there are also some risks associated with social media. Parents should consider taking precautions to promote social media safety in their children with autism.
Technology and Autism
The use of technology, specifically social media, can be helpful for many people, including people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Social media can support social connections and relationships. People with autism often struggle in certain ways with social and communication skills and developing and maintaining relationships. Social media can be a tool for overcoming or minimizing the challenges that people with autism have in social and communication skills.
Technological developments have been available for people with ASD in recent years. For example, Kientz and colleagues (2014) discuss six relevant technology platforms for individuals with autism. These include personal computers, robotics, virtual reality, shared active surfaces, sensing technologies, and mobile devices. By using these technologies, people with autism can connect with others. Using social media platforms through these technologies can support social interactions and relationships for teenagers with autism (Hedges, et. al., 2018).
Benefits of Social Media for Teenagers with Autism
The internet removes the physical barriers and some of the challenges in face-to-face social interactions, which can be helpful for people with autism. In face-to-face interactions, body language impacts the experience of social dynamics. People with autism sometimes struggle with understanding body language or facial expressions. Some people with autism might understand these but find the nature of face-to-face social interactions anxiety-producing and stressful. These factors aren’t an issue regarding internet-based social interactions like socializing through social media.
Some research has shown that individuals with autism who use social media are more likely to have close friends as compared to people with autism who don’t use social media. It has also been found that adolescents with ASD who use social media have better friendship quality and feel a greater sense of security in their friendships. This is not as often the case for adolescents without ASD. This might be because people without autism find it easier to maintain their social connections even without the use of social media.
Social Media Safety
Despite the benefits of technology and social media, there are also great risks involved, particularly for teenagers with autism. While most of the possible risks related to digital technologies and social media use apply to all teenagers, teenagers with autism can be particularly targeted; exposing them to sexual predators, identity theft, viewing or being exposed to violence, being exposed to pornography, and experiencing cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying or cyber victimization is a major concern when it comes to teenagers using social media. Cyber victimization can even be associated with severe mental health issues. Sadly, adolescents with autism are twice as likely to be victims of cyberbullying than neurotypical adolescents.
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Protecting Teenagers with Autism Online
Parents should prioritize social media safety for their teenagers with autism who access the internet. Parental mediation of technology use and social support from parents are two factors that may help reduce the risks of social media use. These factors can specifically help to reduce the possibility of depression in adolescents that may be associated with cyber victimization.
Parental Mediation of Technology Use
Parents can implement prevention strategies to manage their children’s use of digital media. This might include things like creating rules about how often their child is able to use electronic devices. It also helps to have open conversations about the appropriate use of digital media, the internet, and social media. Parents can establish limits on what their children are allowed to access online, as well as teach children about being safe online and understanding potentially unsafe situations that they should be aware of and stay away from. It’s also important to discuss what information should not be shared with others online.
Parents can also discuss cyberbullying with their children. They can discuss how to respond to cyberbullying if it occurs and how to treat others online, so their children don’t engage in bullying behaviors toward others.
These strategies can help reduce the risks associated with internet use in all children, including teenagers with autism. Parental mediation – using these types of strategies to keep children safe online – is associated with reducing the likelihood of cyber victimization as well as the depression and anxiety that are sometimes associated with social media and internet use in adolescents.
Social Support from Parents
When a child feels that they will be cared for and respected, this is referred to as perceived social support. Perceived social support also relates to when a person feels they have people there for them to provide physical, social, and psychological support during difficult experiences. This includes experiences of being victimized or bullied in person or online.
When children and adolescents have high levels of perceived social support, it is easier for them to cope with and manage difficult experiences, such as challenges they may face on the internet. So, parents can help their children with autism to reduce the risks associated with social media use by providing social support. This basically means that parents should intentionally show their children they are there for them and that they truly care about their well-being.
Resource for ABA Providers
To support quality ABA services and to help you monitor client progress, such as social and communications skills, ABA providers should consider using Catalyst data collection software in their practice. Catalyst makes it easy to set and track goals, while automating progress reports clinicians can share with caregivers. To see how Catalyst can help your ABA practice improve patient care, sign up for a free trial.
Alhujaili, N., Platt, E., Khalid-Khan, S., & Groll, D. (2022). Comparison of Social Media Use Among Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Non-ASD Adolescents. Adolescent health, medicine and therapeutics, 13, 15–21. https://doi.org/10.2147/AHMT.S344591
Hedges SH, Odom SL, Hume K, Sam A. Technology use as a support tool by secondary students with autism. Autism. 2018;22(1):70–79.
Kientz JA, Goodwin MS, Hayes GR, Abowd GD. Interactive technologies for autism. Synthesis Lectures on Assistive, Rehabilitative, and Health-Preserving Technologies. 2014;2(2):1–177.
Kumm, A. J., Viljoen, M., & de Vries, P. J. (2022). The Digital Divide in Technologies for Autism: Feasibility Considerations for Low- and Middle-Income Countries. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 52(5), 2300–2313. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-021-05084-8
Smahel D, Wright MF, Cernikova M. The impact of digital media on health: children’s perspectives. International Journal of Public Health. 2015;60:131–137.
Wright M. F. (2017). Cyber Victimization and Depression among Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Buffering Effects of Parental Mediation and Social Support. Journal of child & adolescent trauma, 11(1), 17–25. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40653-017-0169-5