ACT and The Marie Collins Foundation have collaborated to produce a resource to help parents and children understand various online risks.
The resource is a leaflet called “Sexual Abuse Online – Helping My Autistic Child.” It’s available as an online PDF, but you can also contact ACT or The Marie Collins Foundation to request a hard copy.
Sexual Abuse Online – Helping My Autistic Child
Parents and carers worry about online sexual harm, and what they’d do if it happened to their child. When you are caring for an autistic child, it can feel like there are lots of extra things to worry about. How we respond to an autistic child who might have been sexually harmed online can affect their recovery. So it’s important to send the right messages from the start.
The leaflet begins by explaining the sorts of risks children and young people might face online. But the leaflet also lists the various ways being online can benefit autistic children. It can be fun and freeing. Also, as online chat doesn’t involve eye contact, it can give autistic children more space to process interactions.
So rather than advising parents to prevent their children from going online, it instead offers various tips on staying safe. For example, it lists ways you can start essential conversations with autistic children to help them understand risk.
Spotting the Signs of Online Abuse
The leaflet also lists some warning signs that might suggest that something’s wrong. For example, the child might appear withdrawn, and unwilling to discuss what they do online. Or you might notice that they have new things – such as clothes, or even electronic devices – that they cannot or will not explain.
Finally, the leaflet offers advice on what to do if you suspect your child’s been harmed online. And crucially, it also contains a list of things you should never do if you think something’s wrong.
The leaflet ends with a list of additional resources, with contact details for organisations who can offer extra help.
A Much Needed Resource for Parents and Carers
ACT CEO Deborah Kitson said:
It has been a great opportunity to work with The Marie Collins Foundation on developing this much needed resource for parents and carers. Many want their children to enjoy the benefits of online activities. But there is also understandable concern about the risks. We hope this will be the first of a suite of resources to support autistic children and young people online.
Victoria Green of The Marie Collins Foundation said:
We are delighted to have worked with ACT to produce this valuable resource for parents. The resource gives parents the confidence and knowledge about how to respond if they think their child may have been harmed. It also creates a place where their child can tell them if they are worried. This is an important first step in the path to recovery.
Download Your Free Online Safety for Autistic Children Resource
You can also listen to ACT’s Sarah Goff and The Marie Collins Foundation’s Rhiannon-Faye McDonald discuss this resource, and the wider issues of online safety, in this episode of our Safeguarding Matters podcast.