disability, preparedness

ONLINE SAFETY GUIDE FOR PEOPLE WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS

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People from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds fall victim to online bullying and cybercrime, but studies have shown that those with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more susceptible to online threats than others.

ASD is a developmental disorder that affects behavior and communication. People on the Autism Spectrum tend to live a relatively normal life but can need supervision and lack judgment – a trait that has been identified as dangerous when left to their own devices in cyberspace.

Not only are ASD children and adults at risk from others, but they can also develop compulsive online habits and internet addictions, and can be more deeply affected by exposure to inappropriate content.

Everyone should feel safe online. It’s therefore extremely important to make sure you have adequate online security and remain internet vigilant.

COMMON ONLINE ISSUES

There is always an array of threats surfing along the waves of cyberspace. Familiarize yourself with what they are and be extra vigilant – a plan of action is most definitely in order. Below, we have selected the most common online issues faced by those with ASD and provide tips on how to take control of the situation.

CYBERBULLYING

Cyberbullying has become a more common trend across the internet, especially affecting children and those with ASD. The bullies use digital platforms, like social media or internet chat forums, to harass and intimidate their victims. Sometimes, this harassment can escalate into real-world threats and bullying. Anyone can become the target of a cyberbully, despite their age, background, or lifestyle

According to the Journal of Mental Health Research in Intellectual Disabilities, those with intellectual and developmental disabilities are more likely to become the victim of cyberbullying. The anti-bullying alliance has also found that those with disabilities are more susceptible to cyberbullies.

More is being done to understand the phenomena and help build a safer environment online. However, cyberbullying can sometimes be difficult to recognize.

Text-based communication sometimes struggles to convey the same level of meaning and context as face-to-face conversations. Because of this, it can sometimes be hard to tell if someone is intentionally trying to bully, or if it’s a misunderstanding.

​But, if a person sends you abusive messages, or tries to intimidate or embarrass you online, this is most definitely cyberbullying.

THE LONG TERM EFFECTS OF CYBERBULLYING

Bullying can damage your self-worth and/or affect your mental health. Ongoing harassment could lead you to withdraw from society, making it difficult for you to interact with friends and family. If left unaddressed, the impact of cyberbullying can run deep, and for a long time.

​Even though this sounds scary, don’t let it deter you from exploring online and forming meaningful friendships with people over the internet.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF CYBERBULLYING

Cyberbullying is a beast with many faces, the most common of which is abusive messages received through email, text message, and instant chat. However, it’s not only through these means that online bullies can get to you.

CYBERBULLYING MIGHT ALSO MANIFEST ITSELF IN THE FOLLOWING GUISES:

A person spreading gossip and rumors about you online, to your friends or even strangers.

Someone who posts statuses and comments intending to humiliate you, or altering the way in which other people perceive you.

Threats being made to you through social media and other avenues of online communication.

Someone who uses their online profiles to share information, videos, or photos of you without your consent, or after you have asked them to stop.

A person who uses your online profiles and information to stalk you online and/or in real life.

Someone who hacks into your online accounts or impersonates you with the intention of using your name and reputation to spread inappropriate or harmful content. This is most commonly known as fraping

HOW TO PREVENT BEING BULLIED ONLINE

Recent research suggests that cyberbullying tends to occur when certain risk factors aren’t mitigated. Although cyberbullying is hard to stop, you can take steps to prevent yourself from becoming a victim.

The first step is to change the settings on your social media accounts so that your profiles can only be seen by people you know and trust. Cyberbullies are opportunistic by nature, so you‘re at greater risk of experiencing online harassment if strangers can easily contact you.

Similarly, you should always avoid opening messages or accepting friend requests from people who you don‘t know. The ability to hide behind a computer screen while attacking someone often removes a cyberbully from the real-world consequences of their actions, and so they often pick on someone who isn’t in their social circle or someone they don’t know.

6 TIPS TO AVOID CYBERBULLYING

  1. Secure your social media accounts. Set your security levels to ‘friends only’ so that strangers can’t see your profile or send you messages.
  2. Don’t post personal information online. Never post information such as your location, address, phone number, school, or workplace online. This will help to prevent cyberstalking, and also means bullies won’t be able to contact you face-to-face or on the phone.
  3. If someone sends you abusive messages, don’t take the bait. Most bullies’ primary goal is to elicit a reaction from their target. If you respond, it might encourage them to continue, so it’s best to refrain from giving them what they’re looking for. Most bullies will simply give up and leave you alone if you don’t reply.
  4. Report them. If someone is bullying you or someone you know, report their post to the platform’s support team. A member of staff will review the content and make a decision to either delete it or allow it to remain. In more serious cases, they may even take action against the bully by blocking or banning them.
  5. Block the bully. Blocking someone will prevent them from accessing your profile and contacting you in the future.
  6. Talk about it. Let a trusted friend or family member know what’s going on. They might be able to help you or give you some handy advice.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT OF ONLINE MESSAGES

ONLINE MISUNDERSTANDINGS

​It is possible to misunderstand a situation when communicating with someone over the internet. It’s easy to miss the context or meaning of someone’s comment in the absence of social cues, and this can cause online discourse to go off-track, or even turn into a heated argument.

​Here are the best practices for avoiding misunderstandings online:

​Keep in mind that not everything you read online is true and not everyone with whom you speak will be honest.

If something is unclear, ask the person to clarify what they mean before sharing your opinion.

Use reliable sources to double-check facts and information so you don‘t take on or share something that is inaccurate.

Remember to be polite and calm even when you are sure that somebody is wrong or if you feel they are being rude.

Look out for admins and moderators in groups and forums to mediate online discussions if they become uncomfortable or argumentative.

Online forums, like Talk About Autism, are built specifically for people with ASD to socialize and make friends. Most of these forums have moderators who monitor the discussions and are trained to offer mediation if they spot a misunderstanding.

10 WAYS TO IMPROVE SOCIAL MEDIA AND ONLINE COMMUNICATION

There are a lot of benefits to using social media, especially for people on the Autism spectrum who may have trouble interacting with people. However, there are some drawbacks to putting all of your information on social networks.

Here are 10 tips that can improve online communication and minimize the risk of being misunderstood

AdviceExplanation
Never add your boss, teacher, or supervisor on social media. If you‘re friends online, they’ll be able to see the content on your profile, which may lead to misinterpretations over your character. If their opinion of you is altered by what they see, it could hinder your ability to get a promotion.
Never comment about your work onlineIt might seem innocent to you, but it could cost your job if it gets back to your bosses or colleagues. Additionally, most workplaces now have rules against posting about your work on social media.
Refrain from posting content that might skew other people’s opinions of you.Potential employers will usually look you up online and they may base their opinion on you from what they see, even if it doesn‘t actually represent who you are.
Always meet a new online friend during the day and in a public place.Always tell someone where you are going, who you are meeting and any change of location. To be extra careful, you could take a trusted friend or family member with you.
Don‘t go anywhere secluded or follow them back to their house.
If something feels ‘off,’ leave.
Keep your passwords safe and don‘t hack into other people’s accounts or websites.
People with ASD often find themselves the victim of a manipulative person who will ask them to break the law or hack a computer, but it’s illegal to do so.
Don’t compare your life with someone else’s on social media.A lot of users spread misinformation over the internet and even exaggerate their lives to look good.
Always be polite in your online discourse and avoid arguments.Even when you feel that the other person is wrong try to be polite.
Be careful with the use of AllCAPS.Remember that most internet users regard typing in capitals as the digital equivalent of yelling, and in this context, it can be viewed as rude to type in ALLCAPS.
Use emoticons to better express the context of your words.You can use emojis or emoticons to better express the context and meaning of your words. For example, adding a smiley face to the end of a sentence will show that you are happy, or being friendly.

BECOMING A VICTIM OF A SCAM, MANIPULATION OR HACKING

Scammers and hackers are unfortunately a part of everyday online life. To put it simply, some people have ill intentions and wish to manipulate others for their own gain.

They will present themselves as someone who wants to become your friend or even a potential romantic partner. They will work hard to build a relationship to gain your trust, then rip you off!

Scammers, hackers, and cybercriminals will do this for a variety of reasons. For example, they may try to con you into sending them money or committing a crime on their behalf.

They may also be phishing for your personal information – like your passport details – to steal your identity or pose as you online.

BEST PRACTICES FOR AVOIDING SCAMS AND MANIPULATION

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Don’t give anyone personal information, such as your address, phone number, or ID number.

Never divulge your banking or credit card information online – remember that some scammers may contact you pretending to be your bank. Your bank will never contact you asking for personal and private information.

Don’t give sensitive information – Do not tell anyone online where you or your friends and family work or go to school.

Consider using a pseudonym instead of your real name – lots of people use their first and middle names or create an entirely new name for themselves.

Be careful when agreeing to meet up with people you’ve met online.

Don’t send money to anybody you meet online – if somebody asks you to send them cash, it’s likely they are trying to scam you.

Never click any links that you don’t recognize – By clicking on links on web site that you have not visited or heard before, they may take you to a website that will compromise your computer’s security.

PLAY IT SAFE

Let a friend or family member know if someone has asked you for this information, or if you don‘t feel safe.

Attachments – remember that email attachments might contain malware that can damage your computer and harvest your private information. Don‘t open them unless it’s a file that you have been expecting from someone that you trust.

Information – remember that not everything you read online is true.

Take breaks from your computer often to socialize, stretch, and give your eyes a rest.

Spend your money safely. Don‘t buy things from unfamiliar stores or links, and don‘t send people money.

Act politely and don‘t say things online that you wouldn‘t say in real life.

The Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder has created a memorable acronym for staying safe online, Play it Safe.

Personal information – never share your personal information online.

Friends online should stay online – if someone asks to meet up, tell them no.

​EXPOSURE TO INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT

Blocksite-Cover-Inappropriate-content.pn

For as many wonderful and informative pieces of information you find online, there are equal amounts of inappropriate and harmful content hidden away. Sometimes, you might stumble across depictions of violence, pornography, and illegal content that most people would prefer to avoid. Accessing things like child pornography, even by accident, can have disastrous legal consequences, so it’s important to safeguard yourself against this.

Tools to Block Inappropriate Content

1. SafeSearch:

Google’s SafeSearch blocks explicit content from your Google search results. Although it isn‘t always 100% accurate, it allows you to filter out things like pornography and explicit images when you‘re googling on your tablet, phone, or computer

>>>> How to set up Google SafeSearch

2. Internet filters:

Web filters, like Net Nanny, monitor the websites you access in order to block inappropriate content. You can customize the things your filter looks for, and even whitelist websites you deem as safe. This is a great tool for adults who want to filter out content that’s not safe for work as well as parents looking to keep their kids safe online.

>>>> Read about best internet filters 

3. Advert and pop up blockers:

We’ve all heard stories of friends who’ve had people walk up behind them when they’re using their computer, only for an unexpected explicit pop-up to come on the screen at that very moment. You can protect yourself from these potentially disastrous incidences by installing a pop-up and ad blocker on your browser

>>>> Discover the best pop-up blockers

4. Anti-virus and anti-malware protection:

Some viruses and malware will cause explicit pop-ups to grace your screen at inopportune moments. A good, up-to-date anti-virus will not only protect your computer from damaging infections, but it will also keep you shielded from inappropriate content

>>>> Find out about the best antivirus software

5. Links:

Avoid clicking on links you don’t recognize. Even if the message is sent to you by a friend, don’t click on a link you don’t recognize, or you aren’t expecting. You will often receive spam messages via text messages and emails that ask you to click on a link to access their website or even a prize, but doing so will leave you at risk of a virus or scam.

>>>> How to check a suspicious link without opening it

SENSORY OVERLOAD ON THE INTERNET

​For those of us who experience sensory sensitivity, electronic devices and the internet can trigger an all-round overload. Loud noises, bright backlights, unexpected music, and auto-playing videos are just a handful of the irritants that can overwhelm.

sensory-overload

​Steps you can take to minimize the sensory impact

Adjust your screen’s brightness levels and invest in an app that blocks blue light on your device. Although it will make your screen appear with a slightly orange tint, blocking out blue light is a must for decreasing the strain that backlights put on our senses. Apps to block blue light are available on most devices, and they’ll even help you get to sleep faster and minimize the impact of light-sensitive migraines.

Switch video and audio autoplay off on your social media platforms.

Invest in a ‘quiet’ keyboard and mouse to reduce the clicking noises as you type.

White noise is a great tool to soothe the senses. It can also drown out irritating sounds, like the hum of your computer, or your noisy neighbors! White noise videos are available for free on YouTube, or, alternatively, you can purchase a white noise machine.

INTERNET ADDICTION

The allure and ease of socializing online can negatively impact your drive to socialize in the real world. Online addiction is a serious issue and it affects many people. Studies suggest that people who are prone to obsessive behaviors are at greater risk of developing an internet addiction. People with ASD and anxiety disorders are at particularly high risk.

It’s easy to see why – the internet offers sanctuary and an easy way to connect and communicate with peers. When most of your friends are internet-based, that‘s where you will want to spend most of your time

It’s crucial for your mental and physical health to develop and maintain relationships in the real world. The internet is a wonderful tool, but if it interferes with your ability to spend time with friends and family, it might be time to take a break.

Tips to Counter Internet Addiction

Set yourself a time limit when you‘re on the computer. You might like to set a timer for an hour or two and log out when the time is up.

Create a roster or make plans to spend a certain amount of time with friends and family, or enjoying hobbies and exercise, each day. Include your online time in your roster, but plan other activities for your free time as well.

Complete all the other tasks you need to do, like chores, before you go online each day.

Use specially designed apps to remind you to take a break. Programs like Offtime monitor your usage and show you how much time you‘ve been spending on social media. You can even set them to block certain sites, like Facebook, during certain times of the day.

Set your social media push notifications to silent on your phone or tablet. This way, you’ll receive them when you login and not when you‘re busy with other activities.

If you feel that you might be falling victim to internet addiction, you can ask your doctor for a referral to an experienced therapist who will be able to give you more advice.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF ON POPULAR SOCIAL NETWORKS

Facebook

Main Risks

  1. it is easy for scammers to befriend and trick you by using fake profiles.
  2. There is a medium to high risk of being exposed to links that will take you to scam websites that phish for your personal information.
  3. Cyberbullies often use Facebook to harass their victims.
  4. Although it is against Facebook’s policies, you may be exposed to explicit posts that their content filters haven‘t detected.
  5. Features like video autoplay can trigger sensory overload.
  6. Social media, as a whole, can be addictive.

Things To Consider

  1. Leave out personal information
  2. Make your account private
  3. Consider limiting the audience for posts you‘ve shared with friends of friends or public.
  4. Who can send you friend requests
  5. Who can see your friends list.
  6. Who can look you up using the email address/phone number you provided.
  7. Who can post on your timeline
Twitter

Main Risks

  1. Twitter is a hub for social and political activism, and sometimes, this can become overwhelming and distressing.
  2. Due to Twitter’s diverse content, you may come across some explicit or triggering tweets from time-to-time.
  3. Passionate arguments often break out over Twitter discussions, and users may be at risk of experiencing cyberbullying.
  4. Like all social media, Twitter has the potential to become addictive and interfere with your everyday life.

Ways To Protect Yourself

  1. Make your tweets private.
  2. Avoid cyberbullies.
  3. Avoid inappropriate content.

Main Risks

  1. Strangers might be able to access your personal information or use your photos to impersonate you.
  2. Just like most social media platforms, Instagram makes it easy for cyberbullies to attack you.
  3. You might stumble across explicit content.

Ways To Protect Yourself

  1. Make your account private.
  2. Block cyberbullies.
  3. Stick with viewing the profiles of people whom you trust.

CONCLUSION

​In summary, the key here is to ensure you’re internet safe. Focus on incorporating tighter online security measures and heightened safety precautions. Educate yourself, be vigilant and be aware.

Those with ASD are more susceptible to online threats than others, so it’s even more important to follow our advice for remaining safe online.

Cyberbullies and online scammers will unfortunately always have a place online, so it’s your job to stand up and take the necessary steps to protect yourself from attack.

Follow our steps so you can spot when something is not right and take action to protect yourself when you feel threatened.

This Internet Safety Guide has flagged the key areas you should watch out for, and how to tackle the threats faced. Enjoy your time online, but remember to be internet safe and careful at the same time!

Useful Resources

Web sites

  1. ​Autism Research Institute, Defeat Autism Now (DAN): www.autism.com
  2. ​Autism Spectrum Disorder: www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml
  3. Autism Society of America: www.autism-society.org
  4. Autism Speaks (recently merged with Cure Autism Now) and the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE): www.autismspeaks.org
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html
  6. National Institute of Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov
  7. ​Common Sense  Media: www.commonsensemedia.org/privacy-and-internet-safety
  8. Family Online Safety Institute: www.fosi.org/good-digital-parenting/
  9. Kids Health: kidshealth.org/en/parents/net-safety.html
  10. The Federal Bureau of Investigation: www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/parent-guide
  11. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: www.missingkids.org/NetSmartz
  12. Autism Today: www.autismtoday.com/
  13. First Signs (A non-profit organization dedicated to early detection and intervention): www.firstsigns.org

Publications 

Archer, E. (2012). Learning abilities, autism and internet safety: A parent’s guide. Retrieved from http://www.parentsprotect.co.uk/files/learning_disabilities_autism_internet_ safety_parent_guide.pdf

Autism Speaks Inc. (2011). Internet safety, social networking, and technology. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/documents/transition/internet.pdf

​Bagatell, N. (2010). From cure to the community: Transforming notions of autism. Ethos, 38, 33-55.Benford, P. & Standen, P. J. (2009). The Internet: A comfortable communication medium for people with Asperger syndrome (AS) and high functioning autism (HFA)? Journal of Assistive Technologies, 3, 44-53.

​Dehue, F., Bolman, C., & Vollink, T. (2008). Cyberbullying: Youngsters’ experiences and parental perception. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11, 217-223.

​Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008). Bullying involving children and young people with special education needs and disabilities: Safe to learn: Embedding antibullying work in schools. Nottingham: DCSF Publications, p. 22.

​Internet Matters (2015). Inappropriate content. Retrieved from http://www.internetmatters.org/issues/inappropriate-content/

​Lenhart. A. (2015). Teen, social media and technology overview 2015. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/files/2015/04/PI_TeensandTech_Update2015_0409151.pdf

​Internet Safety & Autism. Retrieved from https://www.autismwestmidlands.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Internet_safety_and_autism.pdf

​Madden, M., Cortesi, S., Gasser, U., Lenhart, A., & Duggan, M. (2012). Parents, teens, and online privacy. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/files/old-media//Files/Reports/2012/PIP_Parents TeensAndPrivacy.pdf

​Tips for Monitoring Kids & Social Media. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/advice/why-its-never-too-early-to-teach-your-child-good-social-media/

​Autism and online safety: new toolkit launched for secondary schools. Retrieved from https://www.childnet.com/blog/autism-and-online-safety-new-toolkit-launched-for-secondary-schools

​Online Dating & Romance Scams. Retrieved from https://www.ag.state.mn.us/consumer/Publications/OnlineDatingRomanceScams.asp

​Autism Resources (An incredible warehouse of autism information): www.autism-resources.com

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