No AccessLanguage, Speech, and Hearing Services in SchoolsResearch Article2 Oct 2020

Social Media and Internet Use Patterns by Adolescents With Complex Communication Needs


    Nearly all students use Internet-based social media to communicate and network. For those with complex communication needs who may benefit from augmentative and alternative communication, social media offer specific opportunities to participate. However, do students make use of them—or do they face new barriers? The aim of the study was to collect data on the types, frequency, and duration of Internet and social media use among students with complex communication needs, along with the barriers to and facilitators of use, and to compare their use with peers without disabilities.


    Twenty-four German secondary school students with complex communication needs and motor difficulties were surveyed by a questionnaire based on an Australian study.


    A majority (75%) of the participants used the Internet, with most using daily and on more than one device. Use for school activities played only a minor role. Instead, the Internet was most often used for recreational activities (e.g., listening to music, watching videos), followed by communication by e-mail or chat, and lastly for seeking information. Greater Internet use was desired by 88% of the participants. The data show technical and social difficulties in Internet access and use and indicate that literacy skills and motor skills influence the Internet use.


    School education should address the desire for greater Internet use. The teaching of media literacy and the provision of appropriate assistive and/or mainstream technology are therefore needed. More research is required on how persons with complex communication needs can potentially and actually benefit from the use of social media and on how teaching how to use social media can lead to further digital and social participation.


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