Online safety for young people with intellectual disability

This research shows that the internet can be a great equaliser for young people with intellectual disability. The internet can help break down barriers, enabling communication and socialisation with their peers, while combatting isolation. However, there are real challenges in navigating potential online pitfalls. This research is based on interviews with 17 young people with intellectual disability aged 13-25, as well as 10 interviews with parents or carers and two group discussions with educators.

Key findings

Benefits from engaging online

  • Parents, carers, educators and young people all agree that digital technologies and the internet have a positive role and influence in the lives of young people. Internet-connected devices facilitate learning/education, communication, social engagement, entertainment and independence.
  • Young people use the full range of connected devices, including iPads, smartphones, laptops/PCs and gaming devices such as Xbox and Nintendo, including using multiple social media services.

Perspective of parents and carers

  • Parents and carers can feel overwhelmed by their children’s tech abilities. They wonder how digital devices and online technologies work and how their children seem to manage so naturally to incorporate them into their lives. Young people often surprise adults with what they can do online.

Online safety issues and experiences

  • These young people are confronted with a range of online safety issues when engaging online including cyberbullying, exposure to age-inappropriate content, contact from strangers, excessive screen time, online scams, accidental purchases and sharing private information online.
  • While these experiences are like those of other young people, the response strategies adopted by young people with intellectual disability differ significantly.
  • Rather than reaching out and seeking support, these young people respond to negative online experiences by shutting down and avoiding the use of social media or undertaking a particular online activity.
  • Parents and carers also report being unsure how to best respond to online safety issues affecting their children. Parents don't want to remove connected technologies because they have significant benefits for their children, but they do want to limit or prevent their children's exposure to online risks.