Online Safety

What are some considerations for online safety?

  • Individuals with ASD are just as interested, if not more, in the Internet than their peers due to the access to information and as a means for social communication (Autism Speaks, 2011; Benford & Standen, 2009). Online communication also helps reduce discomfort and anxiety faced by individual with ASD (Bagatell, 2010).
  • Individuals who have difficulty learning or have a disability are 16% more likely to be persistently cyberbullied over a long period of time (Department of Children, Schools and Families, 2008).
  • Individuals with ASDs are more likely to develop compulsive Internet usage than
    individuals without ASDs (Finkenauer et al., 2012).


Teens and Screens: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Additional Resources:

Sexual Health Class Research Survey

Individuals with ASD rarely get sufficient and/or reliable information about healthy sexual behaviors from traditional sources, like at school or from parents/caregivers, which often results in an increased risk of becoming victims of sexual crimes or perceived offenders (Brown-Lavoie, Viecili, and Weiss, 2014). Reviews and research related to the sexual health curriculums used within schools or educational settings for individuals with ASD is sparse with some indication of the absence of any existing or adapted curriculum in regular use. Removal of these students from sexual health classes means they are left to obtain information from unmonitored sources.

This brief survey is designed to gain insight from a variety of stakeholders (i.e., family members/caregivers, teachers, school admin, or individuals with a disability) regarding sexual health knowledge and the programs provided within an educational setting for students with disabilities.

As a thank you for your participation, you will receive a PDF info sheet with practical strategies for providing resources and skills teaching materials related to sexual health as a step towards preventing sexual abuse or victimization of individuals with disabilities. Please consider sharing this survey with friends and colleagues alike.

Please contact Naomi Swiezy, Ph.D., HSPP, Director, HANDS in Autism® Interdisciplinary Training and Resource Center at or Tiffany Neal, Ph.D., Assistant Director, HANDS in Autism® Interdisciplinary Training and Resource Center at with any questions, concerns, or additional comments.

CRISIS? Read This

When an individual engages in negative behaviors, such as a tantrum or aggression, it is important to focus on the safety of the individual, those around them, and property.

In case of emergency, call 9-1-1!


Indiana’s Adult Abuse Hotline: Report any types of adult (18+ y.o.) abuse (e.g., neglect, battery, or exploitation) who may be incapable due to mental illness or other physical or mental incapacity to Adult Protective Services. State hotline: 1-800-992-6978. For more information or to report online:

Indiana’s Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: Call 1-800-800-5556 to report child abuse (e.g., physical abuse, sexual abuse) and neglect allegations. Help is available 24/7.

Suicide hotline: Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a counselor at Lifeline crisis center near you. Help is available 24/7. For more information:

SAMHSA’s National Helpline (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service):  Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Help available 24/7. For more information:

When to Ask for Help?

Individuals with ASD experience many challenges. However, it is important for parents and caregivers to recognize when they need to seek help:

  • Aggression, self-injury or other changes in behavior, like irritability or anxiety, are recurrent, persistent, and have strong negative impact onto those around them
  • Dangerous or unsafe behaviors that are challenging to manage or contain (e.g., elopement and wandering)
  • Threats of suicide
  • Regression in skills





Preventing Sexual Abuse

Take a Sexual Health Class Survey

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and related developmental and intellectual disabilities are several times more likely to become victims of sexual abuse than others. This is connected to several factors, as identified by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2009:

  • Have been trained to follow rules and requirements given by a person of authority
  • Have limited access to sexual education programming or individualized sexual education content
  • Be unable to communicate verbally (i.e., non-verbal) or have limited communication skills
  • Be partially or fully immobile
  • Have limited access to or a lack of awareness of resources, services, and supports to
    report abuse
  • Be placed in or receive residential care or supported living services
  • Have challenges with cognitive skills, fluid reasoning, and critical thinking making them more susceptible to manipulation or persuasion
  • Experience feelings of isolation and withdrawal due to their differences
  • Be stigmatized by society, thus making them susceptible or more likely to be misled or used by others

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

The Department of Justice (n.d.) outlined a list of common behaviors resulting from abuse:

  • Increase in nightmares and/or problems with sleep
  • Change in routine habits (e.g., eating)
  • Anger or sudden mood swings
  • Signs of anxiety and/or depression
  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • New or increased tendency to run away or self-injure
  • Lack of desire to participate in physical activities
  • Regressive behaviors
  • Reluctance to be alone
  • Sexual knowledge, language, or behaviors not exhibited before
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Negative self-image

In Our Own Words: Why We Want Parents to Talk to us About Sex

How To Prevent Sexual Abuse

Consider the following strategies to help individuals with IDD/ASD avoid sexual abuse:

  • Avoid focusing only on teaching “stranger danger.” Many cases of abuse come from people that are known or familiar.
  • Teach the difference between “OK” and “NOT OK” touches.
  • Teach an individual to say “no” to touch (even non-sexual) either verbally or through other modes of communication (device, sign, etc.).
  • Teach individuals to take care of their private parts (i.e., toilet training, skills teaching pertaining to personal hygiene and dress, etc.) to reduce reliance on other adults or children.
  • Teach the difference between “good secrets” (e.g., surprise for a friend, confidential
    personal information) and “bad secrets” (e.g., secrets that make them uncomfortable, secrets others have noted not to share with others).
  • Trust your instincts! If you are in doubt or have questions, make sure you follow up on your instincts and seek help (Autism Speaks, 2018).

What to do if student confides in you or if you have reasonable cause to believe that a student was assaulted?

  • Believe the student and confirm that by saying, “I believe you.”
  • Tell the student that it is not her or her fault.
  • Tell the student that you care about him or her and thank for confiding.
  • Speak privately to student and only share information with people who you feel need to be enlisted (e.g., principal, school nurse)
  • Report the abuse by contacting the police or child protection agency. You are required by law to report it yourself or make certain it is reported by another person (e.g., by being in the room at the time). You do not need to investigate on your own. All you need is reasonable cause to believe it has occurred.
  • If student wishes to report on his or her own, be present there while he/she does it.

HANDS in Autism developed a handout with suggested strategies. Learn more at

Additional Resources


ASD: Assessing Needs for Information and Training in Indiana

HANDS in Autism® at the IU School of Medicine has been invited to conduct an analysis of the current resources and services related to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Indiana. The results of this analysis will help to inform the comprehensive plan for collaboratively and strategically strengthening the supports among systems for families and individuals with ASD.

One component of this analysis involves the completion of a comprehensive needs assessment. We are seeking input from all perspectives, whether as a family member, individual with ASD, medical provider, school personnel, justice system employee, or other community service provider. For this assessment to be representative of the many stakeholder groups that support individuals with ASD as well as reflective of the needs of individuals with ASD themselves, we need participation from as many people and from as many viewpoints as possible. All responses will be confidential and only summary data will be shared with the state and as part of the report and recommendations provided to the state.

Please take a moment to complete the survey and feel free to also share this information with others who may provide insight. The survey will take approximately 10- 15 minutes to complete. If you are interested in completing a hard copy survey or know of others who may be interested in completing a hard copy version of the survey, let us know as hard copies are available upon request.

To complete the Indiana Autism Needs Assessment, click on the following link:
English Version –
Spanish Version –