Using social media to be ‘social’: perceptions of social media benefits and risk by autistic young people, and their parents

Karri Gillespie-Smith*, Gillian Hendry, Nicole Anduuru, Tracey Laird, Carrie Ballantyne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


Autistic individuals are reported to struggle with aspects of social interaction. Past research has shown that social media use can help to facilitate social functioning, however, the perceptions of risks and benefits when engaging on social media platforms remains unclear. The current study aimed to explore perceptions of social media participation in terms of online risk and online relationships in both autistic young people and parents. Eight autistic young people and six parents of autistic young people took part in semi-structured interviews, with the resultant data being transcribed and analysed using Braun and Clarke's (2006) inductive thematic analysis. Two themes were identified in relation to the impact social media has on autistic young people's relationships (Socialisation; Communication) and two themes were identified in relation to the perceived barriers and risks to engaging online (Abusive interactions; Talking to strangers). These findings show that social interaction is of particular value to young autistic people, in terms of affording them easier social interactions than there would be in ‘real life’. The findings also show that the autistic young people were aware of risks online, and considered ways in which they try to manage this risk. Future research is needed to understand if similar interactions and risk take place across all platforms and whether online communication is successful between matched or mixed autistic and non-autistic groups.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104081
Number of pages11
JournalResearch in Developmental Disabilities
Early online date7 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2021


  • autism
  • young people
  • parents
  • social media
  • relationships
  • risk


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