Home Discussions Families Mental, Physical and Emotional Well-being Internet Access & Community Building While Protecting Student

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    Jessica Murray

      Hello STS community,

      I’m posting this from a question that came in over a social network. I edited it slightly. Any thoughts? My first sense is to ask more about how the student and family are communicating about this, and what the best ways are to collaborate on the challenge:

      “My son is autism spectrum and is now 18 years old. Do you know of any tech that allows him to have the benefits of Android and mobile phones but with restricted access to unsavory internet sites? He gives away personal details without thinking, which gets in into trouble. It is a challenge for him to work out good from bad online (or face to face) socialization.

      Overall, he has difficulties with socializing, which is made harder because we can’t risk his access to the internet via phone or laptop.

      Would appreciate any thoughts or ideas on this dilemma for us.”

      Thanks, all –

      Justin Robbins

        I think the proper response is, rather than seeking to restrict usage, is to teach him the importance of privacy especially re: the internet. This is easier said than done, but that is the only long-term solution and will actively help him beyond this current moment.

        The problem doesn’t seem to be specific sites, but one of behavior. Therefore a different solution than OP requested is needed.

        Laura Gilmour

          The answer to this question was a challenge for me so I’m coming back to it a few months later and re-writing it.

          I am an avocate for gradual autonomy of adults on the spectrum and teaching skills whenever possible (e.g. going on the internet together and teaching communication skills via repeated practice rather than barring access)

          However, I know some specific situations don’t allow for that (e.g. somebody with addictive personality traits who is unable to learn from experiences versus somebody who takes longer to learn but is able to learn).

          Here is a link to controlled access devices if this is applicaple to your son’s case:

          The Best Basic Phones for Kids to Call, Text, and … That’s It

          Laura Gilmour

            I would say that if he is an individual who is expected to be capable of someday reaching full-independence that rather than using filters, that I would advise working with him. There are some individuals form whom that is not possible (e.g. a young adult who has an addiction to pornography or who engages in sexually inappropriate behavior online such as a young adult man flirting with teen girls or somebody who repeatedly despite warnings elopes to meet strangers they met days ago online). If none of these is the case, I think talking to your son and working to teach him the skills and telling him he can always come to you if there is an issue. In addition, make sure he is educated on accurate sources of information (e.g. official government websites versus finding information on a concern about sexual health on an open and unmoderated form like Quora where anybody can produce a response. In addition, teach him about the importance of consent in sexual and personal relationships possibly by providing some resources for him that explain the difference between pornography and consenting relationships. In addition, in both online friendships and dating, help him learn ques that he may be being mislead or taken advantage of and how to handle them. He may feel more comfortable being a male speaking to a male relative or trusted community member. Social learning, including online has to be done through experience and there is a balance between allowing mistakes and learning from them and keeping a young adult who may be vulnerable safe. Most 18-year-old, especially many autistic ones, will be able to figure out how to override filtering software unless significant developmental disabilities. One of my relatives with Down Syndrome, despite limited literacy, can do more on the computer than her parents in their 60s can can, including set up technology so I think having rapport and learning through experiences in most cases is better than filters. As a student and adult on the spectrum (currently a PhD candidate but at 18 I was very socially delayed) I had a close enough relationship with my family that I could talk to my family about what I discovered online or interactions I had. I did make some mistakes and experienced a few instances of cyber bullying and/or being scammed small amounts of money, but being debriefed from these allowed me to learn from the experiences rather than stay naive. Being allowed this independence helped me develop the skills I needed to become a content creator for Stairway to STEM and present some material for them at a virtual conference in Second Life. If I was restricted in my online activities, I likely wouldn’t have independently learned and developed those skills even if I had to go through a few bumps in the road to get there. However, each family and individual is different so this may or may not be right for your family but if possible it would allow your young adult to learn and grow socially and maintain rapport.

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