The Importance of Teaching Digital Literacy to Neurodivergent Youth: Building Digital Resilience and Inclusion:

May 4, 2023

CAVEAT: This article was spawned by a parent who connected with us this week about their neurodivergent child, and the fact that they were looking for guidance on how to share the message of digital literacy and internet safety given the challenges they face.

Although it’s not possible to completely eliminate online risks, they can be mitigated by implementing online safety measures and promoting positive online behavior. When teaching digital literacy and internet safety, it’s especially important to mediate these risks for neurodivergent youth to help them build digital resilience. By imparting digital literacy and internet safety skills, we can assist these teens in recognizing and avoiding risks, giving them greater control over their online experiences and reducing their vulnerability to online harm based on their abilities rather than their disabilities. Through this risk mitigation educational process, all youth, regardless of their emotional, psychological, physical or social challenges, can develop resiliency which can help them to thrive and stay safer in today’s onlife world.

It’s not uncommon for us to hear that denying or limiting access to digital devices or the internet is a better practice than providing digital literacy and internet safety education to neurodivergent youth. However, it is our opinion that neglecting to teach neurodivergent youth about digital literacy can have negative consequences and limit their potential for success and increase their risks in today’s onlife world.

With technology becoming more ubiquitous and playing an integral role in nearly every aspect of modern life, digital literacy skills have become essential for success when it comes to education, employment, and social interactions. (1) Without these skills, neurodivergent youth may struggle to navigate online resources and will likely encounter challenges when attempting to complete school assignments, conduct research, or communicate with peers and others online.

We believe that digital literacy skills can help neurodivergent youth build social skills, connect with others, and help them to find a sense of belonging in the world. Social media and other online platforms provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to connect with others who share similar experiences, interests, and challenges. (2) Without necessary digital literacy skills, neurodivergent youth may miss out on valuable opportunities to connect and engage with others in a safer way online.

It is also important to recognize that technology can provide independence and autonomy for many neurodivergent youth. Smart home devices, personal assistant apps, and other assistive technologies can assist with daily tasks and provide support for children who may require accommodations. By embracing technology and teaching digital literacy skills, youth with disabilities can often unlock new opportunities and achieve greater independence, but this takes lots of effort on the part of parents, caregivers, and educators. It also means taking the principles of digital literacy and applying them to the specific needs of the youth.

The failure to teach neurodivergent youth about digital literacy and internet safety may also perpetuate existing social and digital disparities. In a world that is becoming more and more digitally ubiquitous, youth without digital literacy skills may face the risk of falling behind and experiencing further inequality. To promote digital equity and level the playing field, parents and educators should be teaching digital literacy and internet safety skills tailored to the needs of neurodivergent youth, and offer them guided and appropriate supervised access to digital resources.

To effectively teach digital literacy and internet safety to neurodivergent youth and those with disabilities, it is necessary to adopt a personalized approach that considers your child’s unique learning styles and requirements. Based on feedback from parents of neurodivergent youth who have attended our sessions, here are some recommendations that they have shared with us that might prove to be useful to others as well:

  • Use visual aids: Neurodivergent youth often learn better with visual aids. Incorporating diagrams, infographics, and other visual aids can help them understand complex concepts more easily.
  • Break it down: Breaking down the material into smaller, more manageable chunks can help neurodivergent youth better understand the information. Chunking can help reduce information overload and make it easier for them to remember the information.
  • Use concrete examples: Neurodivergent youth often struggle with abstract concepts. Using concrete examples and relating the material to their own experiences can help them understand how digital literacy and internet safety apply to their lives.
  • Incorporate hands-on activities: Hands-on activities, such as creating a password or identifying phishing emails, can help neurodivergent youth better understand the material and make it more memorable.
  • Focus on social-emotional learning: Digital literacy and internet safety are not just about technical skills. They also involve social-emotional learning, such as recognizing emotions in online interactions and maintaining healthy relationships online. Incorporating social-emotional learning into lessons can help neurodivergent youth better understand how to navigate the digital world.
  • Provide ongoing support: Neurodivergent youth may need ongoing support to apply what they have learned about digital literacy and internet safety to real-world situations. Providing ongoing support, such as check-ins or additional resources, can help them feel more confident and capable in the digital world. It’s all about compounding the message!

As one parent who attended one of our presentations stated:

“My son has autism and dare I use the term high functioning, the internet, gaming, apps, etc..has been extremely beneficial for him. Having said that, since he was 8 and received his first iPad there have been chats regarded to safety, and rules, limits to usage etc…all of this exposure combined with his love for technology and his ability to quickly catch on to anything techy has been great for him. We continue to have conversations about the positives and negatives, do’s and dont’s and he continues building on his knowledge. Technology is wonderful for kids with autism”

Teaching digital literacy and internet safety to neurodivergent youth is essential in today’s onlife world. Not only does it help them to develop social skills and connect with others, but it also helps to promote their independence and autonomy. Not teaching digital literacy to neurodivergent youth can lead to negative consequences and limit their potential for success. It is crucial to adopt a personalized approach that considers each child’s unique learning style and requirements. By implementing and promoting digital literacy and internet safety strategies, we can mitigate the risks and help neurodivergent youth build digital resilience. Ultimately, providing guided and appropriate supervised access to digital resources can level the playing field, promote digital equity, and help all youth, regardless of their abilities, to develop the skills they need to succeed and stay safer in today’s onlife world.

Digital Food For Thought

The White Hatter 

End Note:

Our area of expertise is digital literacy and internet safety education, and we are seeking to collaborate with a not-for-profit organizations or groups that specialize in working with parents and their neurodivergent children. Our aim is to jointly design digital literacy programs tailored to meet the unique needs of neurodivergent youth. If you represent such an organization or know of one, we would be excited to hear from you in the hopes to work together to make a positive impact on this unique group of youth-specific to digital literacy and online safety.




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