Internet Safety for People with FASD

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Black and white image taken from behind of a woman with a bun sitting in a chair and working on the computer.

Tuesday February 8th was Safer Internet Day (SID). Every year in February, organizations come together to make the online world a safer place for children and young people. This year’s theme is: Together for a better internet.

FASD and the Internet

All parents are concerned about the safety of their children on the Internet and social media. From chatting to searches, the Internet is a vast territory of information and connections that can lead to potentially dangerous situations. Caregivers of people with FASD often have additional worries about how to raise their children in a digital world.

Children and young people with FASD are often at a higher risk when interacting online. Prenatal alcohol exposure can impact brain structure and function. People with FASD may struggle with impulse control and decision making. They often lack communication skills, which can make it challenging to understand sarcasm and jokes.

People with FASD also struggle with social interaction and may turn to digital connections instead as it relieves some of the stress that comes with face-to-face interactions. Kids with FASD also struggle to understand the impacts of their behaviour, which can make it hard to assess risk and identify a potentially unsafe situation.

Their neurodevelopmental difficulties place people with this disability at a higher risk for victimization and unintentional victimization of others when interacting online. Children with FASD may be more likely to talk to people they don’t know on the Internet to make new friends. They may have less inhibitions about revealing their identities and giving out personal information. Children with FASD also may experience additional challenges with the addictive nature of Internet interactions.

Strategies to stay safe online

It can be hard to figure out how to keep your family safe online. There are not many resources available to help caregivers of people with FASD navigate the digital world, but the book FASD and the Online World has some good strategies. In this book, Dr. Ira Chasnoff explains the challenges of interacting online for people with FASD and gives families practical ideas to overcome these challenges. Some of these strategies include:

  • setting up external controls when the child first begins interacting online,
  • allocating specific times and places that children can use electronic devices,
  • having all members of the family following the rules,
  • monitoring the devices on a consistent and irregular basis,
  • follow the child on their social media platforms.

Dr. Chasnoff also suggests discussing the morals and ethics of online communication with your child.  Although these abstract concepts can be difficult to explain, he suggests outlining rules like “always be kind online,” clearly describing unacceptable behaviours for both your child and others online; and encouraging children to ask questions when they are unsure. Repeating these conversations many times and having simple rules posted by the computer can help avoid some of the pitfalls that individuals with FASD face.

Resources for Safer Internet Use

The FASD Success Show Podcast has some great interviews with Dr. Ira Chasnoff and Jess McBeath that both discuss safety in the online world.

There are many other resources out there for internet safety. While they are not necessarily FASD specific, some may have strategies that are applicable for all families:

Together for a Better Internet

The Internet has its benefits. It can bring people together in positive ways, but we need to ensure we have a plan in place to encourage safe connections and responsible consumption.  Whether you are a young person, a parent or caregiver, a teacher or an educator, a policy maker, or an industry leader, we all have a role to play in creating and maintaining a better online world.

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