The internet can be fantastic for children with learning disabilities and autism. Online safety for special needs children is the main concern for all parents, but it’s just as important to help your child get the most from the digital world.
For example, if your child has difficulty communicating in the offline world, they may find it easier to socialise online, where instantly recognisable emoticons like ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ can replace the need to decode body language and facial expressions. The internet can also be a valuable educational resource, especially for children who take longer to learn new things.
But going online does have its risks. Access to technology means potential exposure to online bullying, grooming and inappropriate content. These are risks for all children who go online, but sometimes those with learning disabilities need a bit of extra help, support and guidance to enjoy the internet safely. So it’s best to discuss some strategies for staying safe before your child starts going online regularly.
To ensure online safety for special needs children, parents might want to:
- Set ground rules about when and for how long your child can be online. If the internet is their main form of communication, you may allow them to stay connected longer than you would other children. As a parent you should judge what’s best for your child and adapt the rules accordingly.
- Encourage your child to question what they read online. This is even more important for children who know that they’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition. At some point, they will probably want to go online to find out more, and could discover information that is either upsetting, just plain wrong, or both.
- Remind your child not to share anything too personal. Children with learning difficulties can sometimes be more trusting of strangers than other children are. Encourage them to use a nickname online and to come to you if anyone asks for information, like their phone number or where they go to school.
Cerebra is a UK charity dedicated to improving the lives of children with neurological conditions. The Cerebra website can give you more information about online communities and technology that works for children with autism and learning disabilities. For more information visit w3.cerebra.org.uk.