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Strategies for Special Needs & Social Media | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother

Strategies for Special Needs & Social Media

Matthewphoto © 2008 Rebecca Wilson | more info (via: Wylio)
As I networked via LinkedIn, I discovered that a friend’s son had created a LinkedIn profile. The catch? He has Down Syndrome.  He had his profile and place of employment right. But I still called his mother to alert her.

What happens with special needs teens and adults on social media? If they choose to get involved, what strategies can their families employ to help them?

As a mother who lost an anencephalic baby who happened to have Down Syndrome, this topic is close to my heart.  Many of my friends have special needs children. Each time one of their Down Syndrome kids, some now adults, gives me a hug, I feel a tug for my Down Syndrome daughter who would be almost 18 had she survived.

When I have coached and led public speaking classes for teens, my students included highly gifted students, along with special needs. My goal was the same: empower special needs students to develop their voices so they became better public speakers.  One autistic boy gave an effective persuasive speech why video games benefited learning and were good for kids. My favorite, a girl with Down Syndrome, moved an audience of 200 to tears when she gave an oral interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer, sharing the prayer with speech and sign language at the same time.

Isn’t interacting on social media an extension of public speaking – as in public communication and networking? We all have a unique voice. What strategies can we implement to involve special needs teens and adults in the social media conversation and still keep them safe?

Strategies for Families of Special Needs

  1. Education for Caregivers. Parents and caregivers need to learn to use social media well so they can be better friends and mentors for their special needs loved ones. If possible, they need passwords to accounts so they can monitor better. The best monitoring happens from a distance, intervening in problem situations – too much rigid control often backfires.
  2. Education for Family Members. Teach concrete, specific points to target safety in social media. Potential problem areas to cover: selecting friends, posting photographs, chatting, messaging, and clicking on links.
  3. Backup Network. Ask mature, compassionate, trustworthy friends to friend your family member so they too can be aware of their social media presence and help you monitor.
  4. Privacy Settings. Set a schedule, first of each month, to review the privacy settings of your special needs loved one. Settings sometimes change, and this is imperative for obvious safety reasons.

Strategies for The Rest of Us

  1. Mentor. If you have friends with special needs teens or adults who opt to be in social media, be willing to mentor and friend them.
  2. Encourage. Some of my friends in social media have special needs. I encourage them. If they engage in conversations on my wall, I expect others to treat them with respect. If you see a conversation thread on a friend’s wall where someone you don’t know has an outside the box perspective, respond respectfully. Maybe it’s a special needs person, learning to engage with the outside world.
  3. Watch our words. Avoid using the “N” words of our decade, which happen to start with “R” – as in “retard” or “retarded.”  Remove those words from your vocabulary.  When I hear someone use those words in a pejorative sense, my first response is righteous anger, in defense of all those I love who have special needs. Though I may not always tell the person, I will mentally assign a “B” word to them – the nicest of which is “Bigot.” That “B” word then extends to my reducing “B”usiness ties as well.  There are too many good people in business for me to spend my money with those who ridicule others.

If you work with special needs adults or teens or have other suggestions, please share them in the comments.


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