Protecting Kids on the Internet: Tips for Children With Autism
By Carolyn Graham
This is part 2 of a 2 part series. To read part 1, please click here.
The habits discussed here may seem a little overkill, but as we discussed in Part I, children with autism are at a higher risk for developing pornography addictions, and more drastic measures are needed. Even older children will be socially young with underdeveloped reasoning skills.
- Use parental controls and good filters, and even then use caution. Evil minds can get around the best filters and are one step ahead of the filter industry. Use only limited, focused sites and TV channels for your child, and teach them to remain within the site by avoiding the search bar. More specifically, do not let them have free reign on sites like YouTube. Remember, your autistic child will likely not be a strong reader and is at a high risk for stumbling on sites by accident. Think of a 7-year-old or younger and how much responsibility one could expect from them.
- Whenever possible, be present when your child is on the computer. Your child may stumble onto the wrong site, and you want to be present as soon as possible to help them. Autistic children are prone to intense emotion, and their reaction to seeing porn for the first time may be unpredictable. They may not have the presence of mind to crash and tell. Additionally, it may be a difficult or even near impossible for them to understand what is happening or express that there is a problem.
- Teach them to identify the word sex in written form and to avoid clicking on things with this word. Caution: be very clear and practice this because children with autism are so visually focused. You want them to remember the words but also avoid clicking on sites containing them. You could practice using a simple good words bad words sort.
- Avoid social networking and gaming with online friends. Any social networking that you can’t do without should be done under careful supervision. Check the sites daily, or at the very least weekly to enable accountability. If they balk at this, try letting them hold you accountable so it works both ways. (OK, so that may be a stretch, but be creative and let them you are looking of out for them, not controlling them.) Limit the friends to longtime trusted family and friends. Remember, children with autism are not only vulnerable to porn but predators as well. They likely will not have abstract thinking skills to use the necessary judgment needed on social media, and you don’t want them to inadvertently give out too much personal information.
- Choose a basic phone over a smart phone for your child. Most teens accessing porn are doing it on their phones. Don’t forget to hold them accountable in their texting by checking it often.
- Communicate. Verbalize what porn is and the actions you take to stay clear of it yourself. This will help your child develop better reasoning skills, and remember they will need lots of practice to internalize these skills. If you avoid certain sites, take the time to point them out and explain why you do so. Educate and Empower Kids has great resources to get you taking.
- Make a special effort to connect with your child. It may be more difficult with a child with autism, but all the more reason to make it a priority. Listen and be a safe person to talk to by not overreacting. Find things you can do together, like fishing or playing basketball or making crafts.
- Encourage your child to develop talents and be involved in as many non-electronic activities as possible, especially service. Have them help you make treats for the neighbors, rake leaves, participate in local cleanup projects, or volunteer at a nursing home or pet shelter. A bonus to this will be having a child with autism who is developing good social skills and connections with others.
Every family and individual is different, but the effects of porn are real and can affect more lives than the individual. Extreme care and good judgment will be well worth the time and effort you take. The old saying rings true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Carolyn Graham has a BS in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas A&M. She has been a substitute, preschool and kindergarten teacher. She now teaches Special Education.