The online world is both a resourceful and a dangerous place. It can be used to help you learn, but it also has the potential to hurt if not handled properly. This article will provide some tips for the safe use of the internet for the autism community.
What are the risks of online environments for a person with autism?
The benefits of being online are multiple for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but the risks are not few either. The internet is a vast and ever-changing place that can be difficult to navigate without proper training or support. It’s essential to understand what you might encounter when using an online environment, so you know how best to protect yourself from potential harm.
This article will help you learn about some common issues of online interactions faced by those who have been diagnosed with ASD.
This type of bullying occurs through electronic communication such as email, text messaging, social media sites, blogs, forums, and other forms of digital technology. Cyberbullying has become increasingly prevalent over time due to technological advances. In fact, it was estimated that nearly one-third of all teens reported having experienced at least one form of cyberbullying during their lifetime.
According to the Journal of Mental health research in Intellectual Disabilities, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are more likely to be victims of cyberbullying.
Scammers, cybercriminals, and hackers are getting increasingly inventive as digital worlds evolve. People with autism may find themselves targeted because they tend to trust others less than most. They also often lack awareness of scams and fraud schemes. As a result, many people with autism fall victim to these types of crimes.
In addition, scammers use various methods to trick unsuspecting users into revealing personal information. These include:
- Spoofing emails – A scammer sends out fake messages claiming to come from someone else.
- Phishing – An individual receives an unsolicited message asking them to provide sensitive data like passwords, credit card numbers, bank account details, etc.
- Social engineering – Someone tries to get access to your computer or phone by pretending to be another person. For example, they could pretend to be a friend or family member trying to contact you. Or they could try to convince you to reveal confidential information.
- Identity theft – Your identity is stolen and used to commit fraudulent acts against you.
Although the internet is a vast space of all kinds of information, it can also expose people to harmful content. For individuals with autism, exposure to pornography, violent images, hate speech, and even child abuse imagery can cause significant distress. Some websites contain inappropriate material simply because they don't take steps to prevent this kind of thing from happening. Others intentionally post offensive materials to attract attention.
People with autism are vulnerable targets for sexual predators. According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, there were approximately 1,500 cases involving missing children under 18 years old between January 2006 and December 2009. Of those, almost half involved children with special needs. People with autism are especially susceptible to grooming behavior by strangers. Grooming involves gaining the confidence of a trusting adult before exploiting them.
Some people with autism have developed problematic behaviors online. This includes excessive gaming, spending too much time on social media, or engaging in risky activities like shopping or gambling.
Internet addiction for children with autism spectrum disorders can prevent them from developing social skills or engaging in real-life situations and relationships—which is an important factor for promoting mental health.
Read More: How to Handle Screen Time.
How can people with autism practice internet safety?
The following tips and ground rules will help protect yourself or your child while using the internet:
- Be aware that some sites might not be safe. If something seems suspicious, avoid clicking links or downloading files. Instead, go directly to the website's homepage.
- Never give out any personal information over email unless you know who you're talking to. Never send money via text message or through other means such as PayPal.
- Use common sense when browsing the web. Don’t click on unknown links or download anything without first checking its source. Also, never share private information over unsecured networks.
- Don't forget about offline risks! Be careful around public computers at libraries, schools, coffee shops, etc., where others may see what you do online. And if you're going somewhere new, make sure you tell friends and relatives so they'll keep an eye on things for you.
- Don’t share private information about yourself if you receive an unexpected call or visit at home. Don't answer questions about your age, address, school name, grade level, parents' names, etc.
- If someone asks you to meet up, ask them why they want to meet you. Ask how long they've known each other. Make sure their intentions aren't malicious.
- Keep passwords secret. Use different ones for every site you use. Keep track of which one you used last. Change them regularly.
- Set limits on computer usage. Set times during the day when you won't access the internet. Turn off automatic updates and programs that automatically check for software upgrades.
- Set parental controls on devices and restrict websites kids can view.
Tools to block inappropriate or harmful content
Some ISPs offer free tools that allow users to set rules regarding acceptable websites. These include filtering options based on keywords, categories, or both. Other services provide more advanced features, including blocking entire domains or even specific pages within a domain.
Parental control apps.
Apps designed specifically for smartphones and tablets let parents monitor device activity and limit certain types of internet access.
Anti-virus and anti-malware protection.
Malicious code could infect your computer by way of emails, attachments, downloads, instant messages, games, and other items. Anti-virus software scans these items before allowing them into your system.
Google's Safe Search.
This browsing feature blocks potentially inappropriate content from Google search results. It also provides warnings about potentially dangerous material.
How to check if a website is secure
There are several ways to tell if a website is secure or not:
- Look for HTTPS in the URL bar. This indicates that the page was loaded securely using SSL/TLS encryption technology.
- Check the lock symbol next to the URL bar. The lock symbol appears only after a webpage has been encrypted with TLS.
- Click the padlock icon in the browser toolbar. If it opens, then the connection between your browser and the server is secured. Otherwise, there might be something wrong with the security settings.
- Use a security tool. There are many third-party applications available that will scan sites for vulnerabilities and help identify potential threats.
Make internet safety happen for people with autism
Although online environments can be rewarding places that support people with disabilities in many ways, they can also pose risks and prove to be harmful.
Individuals on the spectrum as well as parents of children with autism have now the tools to identify and teach their kids how to stay away from any sort of internet dangers.
See also What Is Virtual Autism?
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