Making the internet a place of empowerment for children on the autism spectrum

Thursday, 2 April 2020 is World Autism Awareness Day. This event aims to encourage Member States of the United Nations (UN) to raise awareness about people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) throughout the world.

World Autism Awareness Day – Background

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) unanimously declared 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day in 2007, through its resolution A/RES/62/139, to "highlight the need to help improve the quality of life of those with autism so they can lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society". The World Autism Awareness Day builds on the adoption, in 2006, of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

According to autismspeaks.org, autism – or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – "refers to a broad range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and non-verbal communication". There is not one autism but many subtypes, mostly influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The rate of autism is high in all regions of the world, and the lack of understanding of this condition has a significant impact on the individuals affected, their families and communities.

In 2020, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the UN chose to focus on the defense and promotion of the rights of persons with autism in the formulation of responses to this public health crisis. As the UN Secretary-General put it, this theme aims to ensure "that our non-traditional ways of working, learning, and engaging with each other, as well as our global response to the coronavirus, are inclusive of and accessible to all people, including persons with autism".

Children with autism are more likely to encounter harm online

Indeed, as revealed by Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology at LSE's Department of Media and Communications and lead investigator of the Parenting for a Digital Future research project, and Dongmiao Zhang, Master in Public Administration candidate at LSE and research assistant for the Parenting for a Digital Future project, 35 per cent of parents of a child with special educational needs (SEN) reported something online that bothered or upset their child in the past year, against 11 per cent for parents of non-SEN children. This represents a threefold difference.

Therefore, there is a substantial gap to fill in order to guarantee that the Web 2.0 becomes a place of opportunities and empowerment for children on the autism spectrum. Several members of the Insafe network of Safer Internet Centres (SICs) in Europe have, in the past years, released online safety-related educational materials specifically designed for children with SEN.

  • iRespect by the Belgian SIC – An inclusive tool on online privacy for teachers to work with students aged 10-14, including in special education schools of type 1 and 8 (mental and learning disability).
  • The STAR SEN Toolkit by the UK SIC – Practical advice and teaching activities to help educators explore online safety with young people who have SEN in key stage 2 and 3.
  • Are you OK online? by the Danish SIC -  A teaching material composed of eight activities for teachers to create dialogue with children with cognitive challenges such as ADHD and autism about their social lives online.
  • Logopedia by the Romanian SIC – Logopedia is the first digital education platform for hearing and speech impaired children and the professionals working with them.

These educational materials (and many others) can be found in the ever-growing BIK repository of resources.

In order to develop this strand of work and make all the resources and campaigns developed by the network of SICs more inclusive for children and young people on the autism spectrum, the Safer Internet Forum (SIF) 2020 will focus on promoting the online safety and empowerment of vulnerable groups, including children and young people on the autism spectrum.

For more information about World Autism Awareness Day, visit the dedicated UN page.


Related news

Speech therapy digital tools in Romania

  • Awareness
  • 14/12/2018
  • Romanian Safer Internet Centre

Logopedia, the first digital education platform for both hearing and speech impaired children and professionals working with them, moves its content to Timlogo.ro, the largest logopedics platform in Romania that supports the speech therapy of people with speech disorders.