Workshop will focus on internet safety for those with autism, other disabilities

NEW HAVEN — Chapel Haven, an award-winning school for adults on the autism spectrum and with other special needs will hold a workshop on internet safety Jan. 19 that is open to the public.

Entitled “Autism & The Internet: Sabotage, Safety & Strategies,” the free workshop will feature internationally renowned autism expert Laurie Sperry from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and will be followed by an opportunity to tour the campus at 1040 Whalley Ave. The campus is undergoing a major expansion.

Sperry, in an interview from her home base in Colorado, said she’s “passionate about the issue and said she and other legal, forensics experts believe there is a “perfect storm” that puts those with special needs at greater risk than ever.

Sperry’s research focuses on people with autism spectrum disorders who come in contact with the criminal justice system to ensure their humane treatment within the system.

That perfect storm, she said, is because of the following elements: more time is being spent on the internet rather than on other leisure activities; social isolation; lack of sex education tailored to the population; mainstream sexualization of children; the difference between chronological age and functional age; and lures, such as people posing as good people on the internet.

Sperry said her goal is to give families tips on how to address the risks and set parameters.

She recommends cultivating other interests to replace time on the internet.

Sperry said people with autism and other special needs are often either excluded from sexual education or taught with materials intended for neurotypical people.

She said those in both groups when taught generally, can recite body parts and other facts, but those with disabilities need to be taught about sexual nuances that may come naturally to the neurotypical crowd because there is so much sexual exploitation on the internet and danger that can arise from clicking on a site where material can be illegal.

Challenges with executive functioning make it hard for those with intellectual disabilities to be discerning when clicking on an IP address.

She said the population needs to be taught that “if you do this, then this will happen.”

Those with autism and other special needs have found themselves in legal trouble for accessing sites without knowing of their illegality, Sperry said.

One strategy, Sperry said, is to make it so there is someone to ask before clicking on a site.

She said the other question to weigh is whether to monitor internet use of a person who is over the age of 18.

“You know your children and I’d much rather have someone monitor them than have a knock on the door by police,” Sperry said.

Sperry, a consultant to Chapel Haven, is a board certified behavior analyst and an assistant clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine.

The workshop is free but pre-registration is required. To register or ask questions, call 203-397-1714, ext. 148 or send an email to

A survey of those belonging to the Facebook group “CT Special Needs Families Networking Group” indicates that internet safety is on the minds of those with sons and daughters who have autism or other intellectual disabilities.