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Tips for teaching students with Autism about digital citizenship

Experts detail some of the most effective ways to foster online social skills needed for the 21st-century for students with Autism.

Instructional Technology Specialist at Cumberland Academy of Georgia, Jennifer Liang, knows all about digital citizenship. But teaching the fundamentals of digital citizenship to students with High Functioning Autism is all the more important, especially as they prepare to enter college or the workforce.

In “Teaching Students with Autism about Digital Citizenship,” a webinar hosted by and Common Sense Education, and sponsored by Symantec, Liang discussed her teaching strategies for incorporating digital citizenship at Cumberland Academy of Georgia—all which can apply to any student, and not just students with Autism.

1. Build a Culture of Responsibility

Digital citizenship at Cumberland Academy began when the school started thinking about 21st century social skills. “A lot of our kids are attracted to online spaces. The social interactions are relatively structured, you know when it’s your turn to talk…you have time to pause and reflect before you respond to a question,” said Liang, referring to texting or talking over social media. When the school introduced Chromebooks a couple years ago, they knew it was important to build a culture of responsibility around technology and teach the fundamentals of digital citizenship.

2. Understand Nuances

Liang explained the components of digital citizenship, noting how they apply to the students with Autism. For example, autistic students may struggle with self-image and identity online. “Because of social media, a lot of our students are more aware of the social deficit they have,” she explained.

She emphasized that it’s important to remind students to stay realistic when comparing themselves to others, because people often post only the “perfect” version of themselves online. She also encourages students to unplug from social media, find role models offline, and be proud of their individual accomplishments.

(Next page: Digital footprints and privacy for students with Autism)

3. Lead with Example for Safe Practices

Since her students are teenagers, Jennifer stresses the importance of a clean digital footprint and reputation. Students may think that only their friends are looking at their social media profile, or that no one is going to care about what they posted in high school. In response to this, she teaches the importance of privacy, as well as respecting the privacy of others.

To make a point, Liang even searches for herself online in front of students so they can see what an appropriate digital footprint looks like. The staff at Cumberland Academy also role plays job interviews with older students in which the interviewer may ask about a social media account.

4. Encourage Online Empathy

When communicating over text or through social media, small arguments can sometimes be blown out of proportion. To deal with cyberbullying, Liang teaches empathy and consequences using real world examples. She also encourages the actions of an “upstander” rather than a bystander, and encourages students to report troubling behavior.

Rather than immediately punishing students for digital drama, Cumberland Academy tries to treat situations as teachable moments. While Liang provided a variety of digital citizenship teaching strategies throughout the webinar, her recurring piece of advice was to simply set good examples by modeling correct behavior and good habits for students.

About the Presenter

Jennifer Liang graduated from Georgia State University in 2005 with a degree in education and has completed coursework towards a master’s degree in special education. She is a Common Sense Digital Citizenship Ambassador and a Level One Google Certified Educator. Jennifer is a frequent presenter on using Google tools for accessibility and digital citizenship for students with special needs. She works at Cumberland Academy of Georgia, an independent school for students with autism spectrum disorders.

Join the Community

Digital Learning & Leadership is a free professional learning community (PLC) where educators can share, learn, and discuss ideas and best practices to enhance teaching with technology. Members can participate in live, monthly webinars and community discussions that focus on meaningful integration of digital learning practices and digital citizenship.

This broadcast was hosted by and Common Sense Education and sponsored by Symantec. The recording of the webinar can be viewed by anyone HERE.

[Editor’s note: This piece is original content produced by View more events here.]

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