Teaching children about safe internet use is not easy, but when those children have an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), things are even tougher.
This is because there are specific issues with the internet – and social media in particular – that arise for learners with ASD. One of the most prevalent problems is the concept of ‘friends’.
"They will not turn-down a friend request on Facebook, because they want people to be their friends and rejecting friends is anathema to them," says Michael Richardson, e-safety co-ordinator at Ellesmere College.
“As a school, we can also experience issues regarding cyber-bullying and potential grooming," he adds. "Many of these situations arise because the young people have a lack of understanding about how to keep themselves safe online.”
To help teachers help students get over these issues, Childnet International, a UK-based online safety charity, has launched the Star Toolkit. This set of resources and activities aims to provide structured assistance for educators.
There are four key components of the pack: Safe, Trust, Action and Respect (hence Star). The activities and information sheets are designed to be fun, while still capturing how important it is to be cautious.
For example, the "Would I lie to you?" game (where children are asked to make convincing statements to each other that they know are untrue) highlights to students that it is sometimes difficult to tell if somebody is being untruthful when they can see or hear them, let alone when interacting via a computer screen.
One school that has used the kit already is Westgate School, based in Leicester. Jill Mount, who is the primary phase leader, says: “Many of our students are very capable users of ICT and, as for all young people, the internet can be an exciting environment. However, for those with delayed emotional maturity or who are lacking in social understanding, interacting online, gaming or using search engines appropriately can present a minefield of challenges, which may leave them very vulnerable.
“The Star Toolkit gives an excellent bank of e-safety resources, which are not prescriptive but can be used, built on or adapted according to need. As a school, we have trialled several of the activities, differentiated them and changed some aspects to make them our own. This is a complex area and it is so important that we give our young people the best support available to keep them safe, while at the same time encouraging them not to be afraid to explore.”
by Leonie Tracey