E. Lough & M. H. Fisher
Background: Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) increasingly have access to the Internet. Whilst Internet access increases opportunities for social connection for individuals with IDD, it also may increase risk of victimisation. Adults with Williams syndrome (WS), who display an extreme pro-social drive to engage with both familiar and unfamiliar people, might be especially vulnerable to online victimisation. This study first explores how often and why individuals with WS use the Internet and social networking sites. Next, the online vulnerability of individuals with WS is assessed through responses to hypothetical scenarios of potentially dangerous online interactions.
Method: Twenty-eight young adults with WS (mean age =27.7 years) and their parents completed questionnaires about their Internet and social networking use and parental oversight. Participants with WS then responded to hypothetical scenarios assessing their likelihood to take social and non-social risks online.
Results Most participants with WS frequently use the Internet and the majority visit social networking sites every day or almost every day, with little parental supervision or oversight. Individuals with WS interact with both known and unknown individuals through social networking sites. Participants are more likely to agree to engage in socially risky behaviours compared to risky behaviours that are not social in nature when online. For example, participants were more likely to agree to meet an ‘online friend’ in person than they were to give their bank account information for winning a ‘contest’.
Conclusions: Individuals with WS, who are a socially vulnerable group in the real world, display behaviours that could also lead to victimisation online as well. As the Internet continues to become more accessible, more research is needed to increase online safety of individuals with WS and other IDDs. Implications for intervention and future research are discussed.