Internet Use in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Content, Behaviors, and Correlations with Parent Reports

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
M. E. Quinn1, E. Ramos2, C. McCormick3 and T. P. Levine1, (1)Brown University, Providence, RI, (2)Boston University, Boston, MA, (3)Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University, Providence, RI
Background: How children, adolescents, and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) engage with content on the Internet has been of growing interest to families and clinicians and may be an area of concern for mental health. People with ASD may be at high risk for compulsive internet use and negative interactions with other users while communicating online.

Objectives:  This study sought to identify how children, adolescents, and adults with ASDs are using the Internet, as well as the degree to which parents are aware of this use.

Methods: 33 parent and participant pairs were enrolled through an outpatient psychiatric clinic setting (average participant age: 14.3 years old) in which participants were diagnosed with ASDs. Parents and participants were recruited if they were able to answer our written questionnaire on Internet use. This included questions regarding average time spent daily on the Internet, categories of Internet usage (gaming, social media, shopping, watching videos, etc.), social Internet activities performed (picture sharing, discussion boards, write a contribution, etc.), use of the Internet for ASD information, compulsive Internet Usage (using Young’s Internet Addiction Test (1999)), Internet safety. Parents also filled out the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS). Participant use of internet was examined and compared with parent reports of internet use. Correlations were used to examine relationships between compulsive internet use and ASD symptoms.

Results: Average Total SRS scores for participants was 80 (SD 8.1). Parents reported an average of 2 to 4 hours of Internet use with their children, while participant estimates were slightly higher at 3 to 5 hours of daily Internet use (S.D. 1.7 and 2.1, respectively). There was a statistical association between child and parent responses (p=0.00), with a correlation of 0.75 from parent to child. The most popular categories of Internet use were Video Gaming and Watching videos. This was followed by Social Media, Watching TV series/anime/Movies, and Listening to Music. Parents and children indicated the same ranking of categories by total response, demonstrating a high degree of knowledge on the parents’ part of the preferred and most used types of Internet use. The most popular social Internet activities reported by participants were viewing other people’s videos and pictures as well as looking for new information (81.82%). The majority of parents (69.7%) answered that they use the Internet to find information about autism, in comparison to only 27.27% of children who said they did the same. Results for Young’s Internet Addiction Test were suggestive of relatively low average compulsive Internet behavior among participants with ASDs. Both parents and children indicated mostly low levels of unsafe internet behavior, such as giving out personal information or encountering unwanted requests to engage in sexual activities or talk.

Conclusions: Internet use in individuals with ASDs does not appear to have significant compulsive qualities and parents are aware of their use. Further studies are needed to elucidate more on differences in Internet use between those who have ASDs and those who do not.