A guide to teaching cybersecurity skills to special needs students

June 29, 2022  |  Karoline Gore

Special needs child learning

This blog was written by an independent guest blogger.

Schools and colleges were the worst hit by cyberattacks during the global health crisis in 2020. According to a report by GCN, ransomware attacks alone affected over 1,680 schools, colleges, and universities in the US. Such attacks also targeted 44% of educational institutions across the world. Schools worldwide are back to normal sessions and for many learners, that means spending hours online studying, doing homework, and submitting assignments. 

While online learning guarantees convenience, flexibility, and affordability, it presents a major safety concern. Many teachers worry about securing schools as they transition to e-learning. Fortunately, there are plenty of useful guides for helping children stay safe online. The only downside is that these guides assume all young internet users possess the same skill levels. So, how do you teach online safety to children with learning disabilities? Keep reading to learn a few tips on how to teach students with special needs important cybersecurity skills.

Discourage sharing of important information

Online safety concerns for teachers and parents include cyberbullying, posting a lot of information, close interaction with strangers, and online scams. One of the best ways to improve student safety online is by discouraging sharing of important information via suspicious emails or links. Inform your students that any information they share online is public. 

Details students shouldn’t share on the internet include real names, phone numbers, home address, school name, and photos. Consider writing a do not share list and post it on your students’ computers. Having a visual list helps your students remember who they can talk to online and what to post. 

Teach proper use of devices and apps

Setting up limits on what content your students with special needs should access is an important step to keeping them safe from cybercriminals. To achieve the best outcome, teach students how to adjust device settings to enhance data privacy. It’s also wise to set up filters to filter search results and install virus protection software. 

Other important cybersecurity best practices for students include setting strong passwords and encrypting data on all Internet-enabled devices. Don't forget to update malware software to ensure operating systems are up to date and advise students never to open links or attachments from strangers. Also, teach the proper use of password managers to prevent data breaches. Since password managers store login information in encrypted databases, students don’t need to write passwords in books where people can access them quickly. 

Embrace gamification

Students with learning disabilities like dyslexia, ADHD, and autism have unique learning needs. For instance, when teaching neurodivergent students online and in person, you need to use different approaches. Avoid a one-size-fits-all teaching technique because some students will understand better through visuals, others study well with the help of text-speech software, interactive whiteboards, and voice dictation apps. 

You can also improve your students’ cybersecurity skills through gamification. There are many reasons special needs students love online games to learn various things, including internet safety. Gamification designed for children with learning challenges is fun and provides engaging content. Examples of cybersecurity games for kids include Interland, Privacy Pirates, Cyber Defense Quiz, and Internet Safety Hangman. 

Discuss the risk of misinformation 

While cyberbullying and interacting too much with strangers are legitimate concerns, misinformation is the most worrying online threat for students with special needs. Children with speech and language challenges, processing, and behavioral challenges may have difficulty discerning facts from fiction posted online. Based on the information consumed online, some learners will argue that some facts are fake. For instance, your student might be adamant about the fact that people landing on the moon is fake after watching a conspiracy theory video online. As a teacher or parent, you can protect students from misinformation by sharing links to reputable websites where they can fact-check information. 

Protecting children from cyberattacks while learning online is a concern for many parents and teachers. To enhance online safety for learners with learning challenges, parents and teachers should discourage sharing of sensitive information. It's also crucial to emphasize the importance of device and app settings, teach cybersecurity through gamification, and share reputable sources of information to avoid misinformation. 

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