A new guide to help parents of children with learning disabilities and autism ensure their child stays safe online has been launched.

Learning Disabilities, Autism and Internet Safety: A Parent's Guide, a collaboration between charities Cerebra, Mencap and Ambitious about Autism, also outlines what action can be taken if their child does suffer from such things as cyber bullying, and suggests resources that can help children to get the most out of the internet at home and in the community.

With 77% of households in Britain having an internet connection, many young people with learning disabilities and autism use the internet for learning and social interaction and increasingly the internet caters for their needs with accessible design and simplified language. 

But the internet also brings a number of risks to these children, such as cyber bullying, online grooming and risk of exposure to inappropriate content. While this is a risk for all children using the internet, it can be more profound for those with a learning disability as a result of increased vulnerability, tendencies towards obsessive compulsive behaviour and social naivety.  Studies have shown that pupils with special educational needs are 16% more likely to be persistently cyber bullied over a prolonged period of time.

The guide gives advice on how to make home and mobile internet safe and how to prepare your child to use the internet. It identifies a range of potential risks and gives advice on how to prevent/deal with them as well as suggesting how to safely explore the many benefits using the internet can give.

Tracy Elliot, head of research at Cerebra, said: “There are real benefits to young people with learning disabilities and autism using the internet, but also potential dangers. We wanted to support parents in making informed choices about internet use and enable them to help their child get the most out of the internet. Some excellent resources already exist around this topic and we have referred parents to those resources, promoting wider awareness of these resources without duplicating effort.”

Mark Atkinson, director of policy, Ambitious about Autism, added: “We know that children with special educational needs are more at risk of being bullied online, and for longer, than other children. Such a negative experience can be distressing and disorientating for a young person with autism and learning disabilities, especially as it may take longer for them to understand what’s happening and to tell their families. This type of bullying not only affects a child or young person but their family’s wellbeing too, as we know parents and carers often feel upset and powerless about not being able to protect their child online. Cyber bullying has exactly the same devastating implications as face to face bullying for vulnerable children and their families, and this guide provides helpful strategies to counter it.”

Elizabeth Archer, national children and young people’s programme manager at Mencap and author of the guide, said: “we so often hear about young people with a learning disability having negative experiences online, but the internet can actually provide great opportunities for learning and socialising. The problem is that many parents don’t know where to start when it comes to protecting their child online and this is where we hope our guide will help.  It provides information on how to make your home and mobile internet safe, guidance on how to support your child to use the internet safely, advice on various risk factors such as cyber bullying and criminal activity, and links to useful websites and organisations. We hope the guide will help parents to feel empowered to help their child make the most of the opportunities available to them online.”


The guide can be downloaded from www.cerebra.org.uk or to receive a copy please contact Catherine Hylton, Research Officer at Cerebra on catherineh@cerebra.org.uk.