Online Safety & SEN 2: Why is it so important?

Why is Teaching Online Safety so Important?

This is part 2 of the Online Safety & SEN series. In this blog I will look at why it is so important that our most vulnerable students are supported. What is it that makes students with special educational needs so vulnerable? I am primarily talking about those students with complex needs (Autism (ASD), SLD, PMLD, etc I apologise for the acronyms).

I would love to hear from any readers who have been affected by these issues and could shed more light on this area for me.

This is not an exhaustive list (actually far from an exhaustive list) but those areas I feel really put young people at risk when using the internet. Not all of these apply to just those with an identified additional education need or learning disability. They are based on the studies and research discussed in Part 1. I would love to hear your views in the comments section.

 students vulnerable SEN online safety.jpg

Whilst you could fill a book I have split the blog into three sections as in the image above.  I am also generalising to a certain extent based on the limited research. Specific diagnosis will have additional vulnerabilities some of which I will cover in part 3.


Have you ever misread a text message or tweet? Mistakes in comprehension can happen to us all, was that meant to be sarcastic? Is he joking? I’m sure we can all think of a time we have required clarification over a written message particularly an informal one.

Some people are incredibly good manipulators and our vulnerable children are very susceptible to subtle forms of bullying from “friends”. It can be difficult to tell if you are being bullied if you don’t have the command of language or comprehension skills required.   Many children and adults who bully online use a range of tactics, like this graphic from HelpGuide shows

Why is online safety important - cyberbullydiagram.png

It may be a case of teaching language skills first, demonstrating why online safety should never be an add on to any curriculum but embedded throughout. I would add to this a box that says “undermines confidence”. The use of slang and words that the child does not fully understand can lead to young people being coerced into situations where they are exposed to sexualised behaviours or expected to take part in sex acts, whether this is on web-cam or face to face.

This video demonstrates how easily a child’s special interest can end up being shaped into being inappropriate (contains offensive language). Highlighting why teaching online safety is so important.

Online Safety Support

The first barrier to getting support is identifying the need for it. The second is being able to articulate that need. We need to look at how we support students. How do we identify those at need. How do we identify the parents who need support supporting their child. We can never presume adults know even basic online safety rules. My generation received practically no e-safety education.

This also brings up an issue many of those in special education face. I have ranted written about it before. That is the phrase “That’s not relevant to them.” Often this is parents but unforgivably sometimes support staff. “They only use the computer for youtube.”

If we achieve nothing else we must break this mindset. Be honest with yourself now; how often have you underestimated a child’s ability to do something or recognise words, tone of voice? Well if you think watching Thomas on youtube is always as innocent as it seems don’t watch this video. Yes this video can be found by following the links at the side of perfectly innocent videos.

Access to Online Accounts

Right don’t get offended I have done the same with my daughter. How many of you know, have asked for, or even set up your children’s/teenagers online passwords and accounts? How many are then told to keep them secret? Confusing right?

Many of the vulnerable young people I work with will go onto residential care placements or supported living relying to a greater or lesser extent on someone to manage their affairs. Will this include having, or being able to gain full access to their online identity?

Their is one student I worked with who used to bring me his iPad to reset as he had forgotten his password. It would have been easy to ask him to share it with me, what to what potential cost in the future. This way every interaction could be used to reinforce the importance of remembering it. After a few months he gained the skills to unlock it himself and found a method to remember a password – not as complex as we’d like but better than being told he must tell someone his password.

I would be interested to see how schools are allowing managed or supported access to potentially risky sites in relation to the new DFE measures to keep children safe on the internet (updated in January 2023) I find this well meaning piece of advice potentially dangerous. It is easy to keep our children safe in a bubble but we are educating for life outside school, for the future where we need strong advocates who will not be protected by filters. Do you know how to filter your 4G connection on your phone. We must balance the importance of safety with the ability to respond to new technology. Streetwise we used to call it.

2 thoughts on “Online Safety & SEN 2: Why is it so important?”

  1. This is very important information. I especially like the way you stress developing the individual’s responsibility for self (e.g. with passwords) rather than taking over for them, which sometimes seems easier to do.
    I’m not sure when LOL (lots of love) which we used to write on our envelopes when sending letters when young, turned to LOL (laugh out loud) in the digital age, but it has certainly caused some confusion, and embarrassment as well as hilarity. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Why We Need to Stop Saying "In Real Life' SEN and online identity.

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