School of Health in Social Science

Autism and Social Media

This research investigates autistic children and adolescent's use of social media and whether it is related to mental health and wellbeing.


The internet poses many challenges and risks for children in terms of privacy and security. This is an international concern since children and adolescents spend a lot of time on the internet, despite showing low awareness of the risks that are posed online.  This issue may be greater in child groups with disabilities, specifically autistic groups, who are often socially isolated.  Autistic groups have been found to successfully use social media platforms for social interactions and friendship formation. However, the social vulnerability often reported for this group may be extrapolated to these online media platforms, increasing the risks of which children online are typically exposed, including online bullying, peer pressure and exposure to images displaying violent or sexual content. 

An example of potential research questions include:

  1. What activities (social or otherwise) are they engaging in across these different platforms?
  2. Do online behaviours across social media platforms impact online and offline peer relationships?


The current project will provide further understanding of how a socially isolated and vulnerable group interacts across social media platforms by disentangling the interplay between the digital and traditional social environmental influences on autistic youth’s peer relationships and wellbeing.  This will result in a detailed database of online media use in autism, which will provide evidence for further research funding, underpin policy briefings, and inform future guidance and recommendations on social networking for vulnerable and isolated youth groups, especially autism.

Project Team

Dr Karri Gillespie-Smith Prof Ethel Quayle
Prof Matthias Schwannaeur Dr Carrie Ballantyne (UWS)
Dr Claire Wilson (UWS) Dr Graham Scott (UWS)