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Teens With Autism Avoid Email, Social Media


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Even as teens with autism use television, computers and other screen-based media more than their peers, new research suggests that they’re shunning some of the Web’s most popular offerings.

In the largest study ever to look at the use of screen-based media in those with autism as compared to other disabilities, researchers at the University of Missouri and Washington University analyzed data on more than 1,000 special education students ages 13 to 16 collected through the federal government’s National Longitudinal Transition Study-2.

“We found that 64 percent of adolescents with ASD spent most of their free time watching TV and playing video and computer games. These rates were much higher than among those with other types of disabilities,” said Micah Mazurek of the University of Missouri who led the study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

What’s more, when using electronics, teens with autism were nearly five times more likely to engage in solitary activities than to utilize email, chatting or other social offerings like Facebook.

In contrast, those with intellectual disabilities were more likely to use social media.

The tendency of those with autism to spend so much time in front of screens could be problematic, the researchers said, because it means that teens with autism are not socializing or developing other skills.

“This is an important issue for adolescents with ASD and their families. Studies have shown that excessive use of TV and video games can have negative long-term effects for typically developing children,” Mazurek said, adding that more research is needed. “We need to look for ways to capitalize on strengths and interests in screen-based technology.”

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Comments (13 Responses)

  1. Linda says:

    The dangers of social media for all teens are real. For my son with autism, Facebook turned into a nightmare. In one weekend over 100 comments were posted on his page saying horrible things about him and using disability slurs (the R word was one used multilple times). Thank heavens I monitored his page closely and was able to intervene and shut it down before he saw the terrible things written about him.

  2. Theophano says:

    I have found, at least with aspies, that the opposite is true. Where aspies, like me, tend to shun your typical social outtings, we feel relatively comfortable utilizing social media like facebook. I am not having to deal with a person face-to-face. I am not worrying about what is expected of me and what gestures I am supposed to be showing to be appropriate in responding in conversation. Not to mention online it’s alot easier for those like me to find our own kind. And believe me, once amongst our aspie fellows, those social barriers melt away!

  3. Sonja L says:

    I have a son in his second year of community college diagnosed with high-functioning autism (still HATE that designation terminology). He has used social media and email all through high school and in fact found it easier to have discussions that way. It’s still difficult for him to initiate & interact socially with people in person (unless he was debating – then it was lecturing “facts” which is safer & easier for him).

    This study seems like it missed kids like mine.

  4. brie says:

    all of these studies have seem to have left the lower fuctioning kids and adults with autsim out of the study it seems like they are clueless and its very upsetting !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Nianya says:

    Did they poll the teens’ parents to see if social networking was restricted? I did not allow my ASD teen on FB until she was 15.

  6. Rebecca Hall says:

    My 23 year old son with classic autism has been emailing people since he was in elementary school. Sometimes not using appropriate social rules when he was younger, but he has always perferred this means of communication rather than face to face.

  7. Christine Didur says:

    Perhaps we do not want to “socialize” using screen based media or anything else. Could our strengths and interests be supported without us needing to be sheep? And since when has “chatting” or facebook been declared the posative, “socially appropriate” thing to do? Maybe we don’t want to waste our time trying to be accepted by numerous “friends”?

  8. Robin H says:

    All the children at my son’s high school use email and FB consistently. The whole population is on the spectrum. In fact, it enhances their social life because they can avoid awkward silences and badly timed phone calls. This article totally missed the mark.

  9. Linda D says:

    As a recently retired proffessional and a parent with a child with “High Functioning Autism”. I can’t believe these people. Social media has its place but what I have encountered in the past 5 years and I have recently retired

  10. Frieda Gockel says:

    Based on my adult son and his friends (ages 25 – 45), I find no reluctance to use email, facebook, etc. by older individuals with ASDs.

  11. Teresa Daniel says:

    I would like to talk to other moms with children with Aspergers. I have a 14 year old, and I am single with epilepsy and it is hard. Help!

  12. Jones says:

    The study also doens’t show how accessible social media was to the teens – it’s liberating to be able to sit infront of a computer and communicate with someone without having to infer emotion from vocal tone or facial expression. It should be encouraged. I don’t mean giving them a twitter account at an early age I mean communicating with them via a closed chat – it’s just a step towards normalization – how many teens do you know that use chat to keep up with their friends? I teach IT to individuals with autism/aspergers and I’m amazes at the number of them with facebook accounts that try and sneak in a chat with someone when they think I’m not looking.

  13. Antoinette Morrison says:

    I’m glad to see someone saying this. I see the ipad being used a lot with small autistic kids but I think also we have to watch this. No social development, no using or very limited use of fine moter skills.

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