There are now a huge number of ways in which a young person can interact with other users online. This could be via a social networking site, an online discussion board or forum, instant messaging, video chatting services or through chat channels while playing an online game. For young people with ASD this can provide positive opportunities to communicate with others, without some of the complexities of offline social interactions that they may find challenging (e.g. eye contact, tone/volume of voice, gestures and non-verbal cues).
Many sites and services allow other users to be added as friends to contacts list, and the use of the term ‘friend’ and the idea of friendship online are concepts that are important to explore with young people. This is in order to help them recognise the differences between online and offline interactions, and the risks associated with them.
Further Information and Advice
In the same way that information online may not always be trustworthy, it is important to make pupils aware that not all users are trustworthy or truthful in the things that they share online. People can remain anonymous or create a different identity on the internet and so text, photos and even live video are not a guarantee of a person’s identity. Even when chatting face to face on video chat, a user could stream recorded footage of someone else rather than show themselves. For young people with ASD, they may not recognise the facial or non-verbal cues that might suggest that the video footage is not live.
When it comes to questioning the information we find online we can employ different methods to check its reliability. However when it comes to checking the reliability of what someone has shared about themselves there is no tried and tested way to prove (or disprove) them.
It is therefore important to help young people realise that people they only know and have met in an online context are still strangers, regardless of how friendly they appear or how much they have shared about themselves. In the same way that we should not tell a stranger on the street our personal information (e.g. full name, telephone number, home address etc.) we shouldn’t share these things with an online stranger either.
It is highly likely that young people will interact with other users via sites, services and games during their time online so always advise them that if they are adding users to a friends/contacts list, they should only add people that they already know offline.
Please make use of the messages and activities from SAFE when it comes to personal information and follow this up with the advice in ACTION which explores the idea of telling someone.