Cyber-security for people on the autism spectrum

Using the internet safely is one of the most important things today’s children have to learn. Educating autistic youth about it might be different from teaching most of the students. Do you know how to do it effectively?

What is autism

Autism is a set of characteristics associated with many fields in life. An autistic person understands relationships and functions in society differently than most people. They often have a problem understanding social norms. They also tend to take things literally, even when it is not the best strategy. Autism does not affect a person’s intelligence. People on the spectrum often like learning. Nonetheless, the teaching methods have to be suitable for them if they are to be effective.

The weaknesses of autistic students

Autistic people often are straightforward, and they do not always understand how lies and scams work. This can be a huge advantage because it makes them honest. Nonetheless, it can also make them vulnerable and easy to cheat on. It is very important to teach an autistic child that not everyone is as sincere as they are.

It is also crucial to give them the instructions in a straightforward way so that you are sure they understand it. Do not tell autistic people that they should not reply to suspicious messages. What they think is suspicious might be something very different from what you understand as such. Instead, try to define what exactly a dangerous message looks like. For example, here are some of the typical characteristics of messages that scammers use:

  • They usually come from numbers or e-mail addresses you don’t know.
  • If they come from your friends, they often include the text they normally would not write – that is because their phones were hacked.
  • They include information that arouses strong emotions and urge you to take action – they can, for example, tell you that you won a prize and you have to immediately click on the link.
  • They try to convince you to share your data.

Autism often coexists with struggles in paying attention during the lesson, especially when the environment is not inclusive. Students on the spectrum usually are sensitive to noise. They also often feel overwhelmed by the number of people around them. If they are overstimulated, they can experience all kinds of problems, from an inability to sit still to emotional meltdowns. If only you can, try to minimise the distractions existing in the classroom, and if you do not have a choice, stay understanding and patient. It is not the autistic student’s fault that the school is unadapted.

It might be very difficult for some of the children to learn in a traditional environment, at school. If this is the case, it might be a good idea to give them an online course to do autonomously as homework. You can find many materials on cyber-security in the internet, for example our course produced as a result of ASDigital project will be available soon.

Autistic people vary in what they need to pay attention to and understand the social world. While giving instructions, always make sure they know what you mean. Even though some rules make it easier to communicate, in the end, it is always an individual thing.

Photo by Vanessa Garcia :

The strengths of autistic students

While autistic students are vulnerable in some ways, they also have a huge strength: once they acquire the rules, they stick to them. It often is a source of problems for them because they do not understand that many things people say are meant to be followed selectively. Nonetheless, in the context of digital safety, it is a very important advantage.

Children often tend to assume that the rules do not always apply. For example, if you tell a child that they cannot give people their password to the e-mail account, many of them will understand that this only applies to strangers. They might share it with someone with authority, for example, their teacher, or someone they trust, like their friends.

If an autistic person learns that the password to the e-mail account is something you should not share with people, they understand they cannot give it to anyone. Of course, they are still human, and they can break the rule, but they are less likely to do it than a child without autism. They may even be stigmatized by their peers for being “boring” and sticking to the rules too tightly. If you notice that is the case, ensure them that taking care of security is nothing to be ashamed of.

Teachers often use a tactic based on exaggerating, knowing in advance that the students will apply only a part of what they hear. This is not a good strategy when it comes to autistic children. If you give them unrealistic rules to follow, they will either try to do it at all costs or they will get confused, seeing that first, you want something from them, and then you expect them not to do it. This will lead them to lose trust in you, especially if you do not follow your own rules. If they realise you are incoherent, autistic students might refuse to listen to you at all.

Once you figure out how to communicate with autistic students, teaching them can be very rewarding. They can be good listeners, and they like to have clear rules to follow. If you manage to interest them in the topic, you might soon find out they have become experts in it. It will not always be easy, but do not give up! The time devoted to teaching cyber-security is never a wasted time.

Helping autistic students to learn it, is one of the aims of the ASDigital project. You can check out its website by clicking here.

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