Digital Tips & Tools for Students on the Autism Spectrum: 2 Experts are Here to Help

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September 16, 2020

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This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!


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In the digital world, technology provides students with ways to make and maintain relationships, explore interests, and learn exciting new things. But daily access to so much technology can make some students, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, feel overwhelmed at times

So, we asked two experts to share their best daily digital tips to support students on the Autism Spectrum. 

1. Practical and Tactical Online Tips for Teens on the Autism Spectrum

Michael Uram, MA, LMFT, LPCC, CEO of Uram Family Therapy and Owner of Wundt Digital Therapeutics

Michael Uram headshot
Michael Uram, MA, LMFT, LPCC

It can be very scary as a parent to see your neurodiverse child go online where there are plenty of dangers to worry about. As a parent, I share your concern. I do not want my boys to ever be the victim of bullying, a scam or rejection.

As a therapist, I can tell you that there are plenty more reasons to help your child navigate the online environment in a healthy way rather than restrict them from doing so.

As a techie, I really enjoy the benefits of being online in a game or on a social forum.

I have blended my different roles together with the latest research and have developed a few tips that may help you in navigating the internet for your child:

Celebrate your child’s strengths more than you help them improve their challenging behaviors

Building online friendships based around a shared interest is much easier to do than in real life for a teenager on the spectrum. Whether they are active on Discord or have their own Minecraft server, your child is still being social within their comfort zone. As we encourage them to continue to connect with these friends in a safe manner, their emotional and relational bank account is full, leading them to be more open to trying other activities in real life.

Watch out for scams that students on the Autism Spectrum may not see coming

The most popular scams right now for teens on the Spectrum is “Free Robux” and “Free V-Bucks” schemes. Essentially, internet evildoers promise your child that they can get free in-game items if they go to this website and do something, which usually includes their username and password to these online games. Your child does not get their items, but rather their account and online identity disappear. They no longer own any of the skins or in-game items they bought. The companies are not likely to help you either.

To prevent this, I suggest you educate your child on the “no free lunch” rules of life. Then, help them turn on two-factor authentication for their accounts, which means that you have to sign in on two different devices to be able to do these things, saving you and your child the heartache of losing everything that they worked hard for online. 

Play online games with your child, whether they are neurodiverse or not

Spending time online with them gives you a window into their world. When you understand their world, you understand their thinking style and their needs. If you reject trying out your child’s games, you are accidentally rejecting them. When you have them guide you through their experience, you are showing them your trust and acceptance. Before you know it, you child with Autism will be updating you on the latest in their life more than before. 

Educate your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder on how people troll each other

Trolling is asking questions in a way that frustrates the victim into trying to explain themselves excessively and generally feel worse about themselves or others. They are intentionally trying to make you mad. The best strategy is to give them what they want early on. Complement them on their skill in irritating you and move on. Once they win, it is no longer fun for them and they are gone.

A great response to a troll asking, “Why you mad?” is to say this, “Your plan to get me mad worked. I am now mad. Now what do we do?” Often, the troll does not get the satisfaction of this and keeps pushing you. Now, they have to figure something else out, which usually means moving on to an easier target.

Encourage students to safely get involved in GPS and AR based mobile games that interests them

Most cities have groups of fun and quirky individuals that really enjoy games like Pokémon Go and Minecraft Earth and are usually more than happy to welcome your older teen/ young adult into the crew. The “raids” are usually fun and brief battles interspersed with driving to the next location together. This is not recommended for younger students, unless they are accompanied by an adult.

Find ways the Internet can work for you and your teenage neurodiverse child rather than only trying to scare them away from the dangers

Teens with Autism have likely already had enough bad experiences with neurotypical peers in real life and prefer the safety of being able to disconnect any time that they feel uncomfortable as a safeguard that the real world does not offer. Please let your child guide you through the world with their lenses on. This is the best option for being able to have any influence on how they interact online.

2. Digital Tips for Younger Students on the Autism Spectrum

Caren Rich headshot
Caren Rich, Psy.D.

This post is an excerpt from the Digital Tips for Students on the Autism Spectrum breakout session at the Digital Citizenship Conference in Los Angeles led by Caren Rich, Psy.D., Educational Consultant at the Weinfeld Education Group.

The conference provided a rich environment for educators, law enforcement officers, and parents to openly discuss issues and solutions for helping students shine in the digital world.

What is the definition of Autism and how do we define it?

Autism is a complex disorder of brain development characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. Difficulties in social interactions and peer relations include the poor use of nonverbal communication, lack of social-emotional reciprocity, and lack of shared enjoyment.

There can be a failure to develop speech, use of repeated speech, difficulties maintaining conversations, and lack of imaginative and symbol play. Restricted and repetitive behaviors include inflexibility to change routines, unusual preoccupations with narrow interests, repetitive mannerisms.

Autism now affects 1 in 54 children, according to the CDC. Autism is one of the fastest growing developmental disorders in the U.S.

Tracking devices are important for kids on the Autism spectrum because Autistic kids are more prone to getting lost or running away because their mind goes in one direction and they follow their mind. These tracking GPS devices allow parents to see exactly where their child is located on a map.

A feature called “geo-fencing” also allows parents to set a virtual perimeter and if the child crosses that perimeter, the parent will receive a text message to alert them. However, these devices do not work indoors and they cannot tell you the exact location of the tracker.

What can an iPad offer students on the Autism spectrum?

An iPad is not a replacement for quality teaching and should not be used as a babysitter. Caren Rich, Psy.D.

There are communication, social, and behavioral apps that allow children to communicate their wants and needs with just a touch through text to speech applications or picture exchanges. The iPad assists caregivers in identifying child’s knowledge and interests. It also gives the child control and the ability to filter out distractions.

When using the iPad, educators need to be aware that an iPad is not a replacement for quality teaching and should not be used as a babysitter. The educator needs to determine how the how and when the student should use the iPad. It can also be used therapeutically as a calming tool.

The visual schedule is a great way to help students know what to expect from their day and to stay organized.

Helpful apps for Autistic students:

Communication Apps promote language development and grow communication skills:

Instructional Apps are best for younger children on the autism spectrum:

Therapeutic Apps are great for allowing the child to calm themselves and decrease sensory overload:

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