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Promoting Internet Safety for Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism


Social networking can and should be a lot of fun for our teenagers and young adults. However, there are stalkers and predators who can be quite crafty at getting personal information and putting our children and families at risk.


The following is from one of ASNC’s invaluable resources:  John Thomas.  John has worked with individuals with autism over the last 36 years as a teacher, a TEACCH therapist, a behavior specialist, a supported employment coordinator, a vocational coordinator at Carolina Living and Learning Center and as the autism specialist at NC’s Department of Public Instruction.  Presently he is a training consultant with ASNC and supports the development of autism training teams in multiple school systems, coordinates training of school teams in early intervention practices, and supports training of ASNC direct care staff:

Social networking can and should be a lot of fun for our teenagers and young adults.  However, there are stalkers and predators who can be quite crafty at getting personal information and putting our children and families at risk.

Simply, any set of ‘internet safety’ rules need to be developed specifically for the person who will use them.  As frequently is the case, I cannot set up a rule for a person with ASD unless it is a rule that the person and I have come to agree on.  In other words, rules work best when they are negotiated and when they are rules that the person with ASD sees ‘as his own.’  Sitting down and making a set of rules that fit the individual is a key.

Because of this, we cannot give you a set of internet safety rules that are right for your family member.  The rules have to be individualized.  I think back to a situation many years ago in which I worked with a 21-year old woman and her grandmother who lived together.  This young woman spent a great deal of time on the internet (maybe 10 or more hours per day).  At one point, the grandmother came to me quite upset that her granddaughter had made friends with an individual who was a convicted felon from another state.  The granddaughter had given their street address to this person and, of course, the grandmother was very alarmed.  The granddaughter kept saying to me, “I’m 21 and I can do what I want.”  In this case, no social story or cartoon conversation or contract worked. I had to develop a chart that showed her very concretely what sharing personal information meant to her life style (would she continue to live with grandmother?).  The graphic or chart looked like this:

Only when this young lady could see what ‘following the internet rules’ meant for her could she then agree to follow them.

With this in mind, the goal here is to share with you some websites and resources that can help you in creating a system of privacy and safety that will keep your family member from abuse, shame or financial and personal harm. As you will see, some of the sites have great information but it is way too much.

First, think about how many rules are right for your family member. Do I set these up with him or her in a sequence of exactly what to do. For instance, do the rules look like this:

1)      Keep your personal information to yourself. Do not share address, parents’ names, social security number, driver’s license or any information about your bank or credit cards.

2)      Keep your anti-spyware and anti-virus programs running at all times. (If you get a virus or spyware message, get offline and fix it immediately (call ____).

3)      Use only a browser that will not leak information. Specify which browsers here:_____

4)      Use the ‘s’ when logging on to websites and engaging in banking transactions. Type in an ‘s’ after the website or URL. This makes it more secure:

Secondly, I strongly encourage you to look at the rules posted by Facebook for safety. This is a very thorough list and therefore may need to be broken into just a few rules that fit your family member. But it is really worth reading!

Finally, look at some of the other descriptions that are provided below. I especially like the one from Common Sense Media that sets up three rules:

1)      Stick with your friends.

2)      Keep private information private

3)      Don’t let your information get away from you.

You should know that these rules are very conceptual and vague. As a result, they do not fit with the thinking of many people with autism and require judgments that will be difficult. YOU need to make them clearer and more concrete. What I like is that there are three of them and that they are simple. You will have to help make them belong to your family member. One adjustment would look like this card that you could put beside the computer:

The Pilgrim Works site above is a set of facebook rules for teens. This may be a very helpful resource for you to adapt.

Good luck developing your system!

Please note that a special note of thanks goes to Deb Zuver of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at UNC-CH and to Rebecca Grau from the Kentucky Autism Training Center for their help in finding resources for you with additional input from Becky Edmondson of CIDD and Ellen Russell at The ARC.

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  1. Fantastic. I\’m sharing. Thanks.

  2. julie mickus says:

    I\’m an OTA student @ Durham Tech. I\’m doing a research project on DIR Floor time. And was wondering if anyone has had any experience with this type of therapy. I have been able to find general info but what I really want to know if anyone really uses this for therapy.

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