Social media has changed the American landscape, whether we love it or hate it. Often we think of social media in dual perspective, where we are grateful for the connections and innovations, but we lament the endless scrolling, the constant updates, and the strange balance between social fluff and hateful nastiness that runs rampant across every platform. The generations that are growing up now and in school or about to start school have never known a world without social media and it can be a great tool for learning and a platform for possible bullying or even a distraction from proper learning at the same time. For parents of children with autism, social media presents a unique paradigm.
On one hand, social media can be a valuable tool and help expand social skills, providing a unique platform that helps kids to express themselves, formulate lasting friendships, and expand their learning through online tools. On the other hand, social media means more screen time, possible exposure to online criticism and bullying, and distractions for children that already have unique academic needs. As social media becomes embedded in the fabric of society and learning, it’s important to examine how it will affect our loved ones with autism in positive and negative manners.
How Social Media Is Helping Children With Autism
Social media is a catch-all term for a wide array of networking, informational, and social platforms that one simply needs access to the internet to find. The benefit for kids with autism is in the name: social media. Children with autism struggle with social interaction, finding it difficult to formulate friendships and make social connections in the same way that their neurotypical peers do. Social media has the unique property of creating a ubiquitous connection for anyone to access information and like-minded people interested in said subjects, while at the same time creating a social barrier that removes some of the anxiety of face-to-face interaction. Many people with ASD that use social media report creating stronger bonds with people online than their neurotypical peers. Social media also allows individuals the chance to formulate their thoughts and consider their actions in a controlled and comfortable environment instead, again removing that intense social pressure. Finally, social media as a whole allows people with disabilities some autonomy where they can build an identity as much or as little focused on their disability as they like. In these regards, social media is a very powerful tool, but there are some downsides.
The Downsides Of Social Media
Social media can also have many downsides and while the point of this article is to underscore the benefits of social media for children with autism, it’s important for us to be realistic about the world as social media becomes more and more a global everyday necessity.
Social Media As A Distraction
Social media might be a great tool to encourage learning and to promote social interaction for loved ones that struggle in that area, but it can also be an immense distraction. Think about your own personal social media use. Many of us can scroll endlessly through a social feed, sometimes closing the app only to find our fingers mindlessly returning to the screen seconds later. Over 210 million people are estimated to have a serious social media or internet addiction. Parents of children with autism often want to limit their “screen time” as many scientists have found that people with autism are especially impacted by the effects of constant screen scrolling. Obviously this presents a problem if young ones with ASD are using social media to expand their social skills, a problem is obviously posed by more screen time. Thankfully, there is a relatively easy fix which just involves some close monitoring of the time spent online and a watchful eye that encourages a little bit of exercise and outdoor play.
This is the other serious worry about logging on to social media platforms. In the same way that loved ones with autism now have access to communities and friends that share their interests across the web, now people with hurtful opinions might have more access to them. Negative opinions and nasty people are unavoidable and sooner or later our loved ones with ASD are going to come in contact with hurtful words and less-than-reputable people. As a parent or a caregiver, if you want your child to reap the benefits of social interaction on web platforms, you might have to run some interference. However, it’s important to remember not to isolate kids from the world either to promote positive social growth. Delete negative comments, but also talk with your child about the opinions people hold. Remember that negative incidents are also part of social interaction. Monitor your child’s contacts, but also make sure that they feel the freedom to make friends and interact with people in a positive way. As with all things, it’s just about striking the perfect balance.
While it’s important to help your child grow and understand that the world can be a negative place, please also remember that internet bullying is an epidemic and has led to hundreds of cases of teen self abuse and even suicide. Incidents of bullying should be reported. You can easily find the contact information to report bullying using this website. Cyber bullying should also be reported to school staff, such as principals and counselors to ensure that matters are handled appropriately. Finally, if there is cause for concern for the safety of a child, notify the police.
Social Media As A Tool For Learning
There has been a lot of debate over the last 5 years about the use of social media in the classroom to help teach kids and connect with them using platforms that they use daily. Teachers have found that social media promotes more interaction on a platform that feels comfortable to modern students, encourages students to dissolve the cliquish behavior that limits their interpersonal interaction and teachers have found they can make use of an abundance of resources passed through certain social media channels to create easier access for their classes. Students with autism can use social platforms to participate on classwork without the pressure of social faux pas, giving them the ability to concentrate directly on the topic at hand. Furthermore, when a classroom integrates social media into their education program, they help students expand their computer skills and digital literacy, which are absolutely essential skills for graduating teens moving on to college or entering the workforce. Social media helps students develop stronger communication and better socialization while lessons are being taught online. While there are definite limitations to social media as a teaching device, it’s clear that social media can be used as a tool to help children with autism to learn and expand their minds.
Have you been searching for the perfect school for your student with autism? Lexington Life Academy is a leader in Autism education in Arizona. Our teachers and therapists work with our members every day so they can expand their skill sets academically and socially. Lexington uses evidence-based practices and standards based curriculum to educate our members while providing for sensory integration and positive behavior modification. We have been lucky enough to educate and support hundreds of people with autism and other special needs across Arizona. Contact Lexington Services today for more information and call 480-900-1009 to set up a campus tour.
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