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This project aimed to describe and analyse how young people (age 16-20) with a mild ID interacts and participate on the Internet. More precisely, drawing upon the perspectives of young people with ID, parents and school staff, we have studied self-presentations, social relations and participation within different kinds of Internet communities. Therefore, the goal of the project was to generate knowledge concerning these complex processes, which could be useful for the nearest surrounding of adults in order to support and help young people with ID with their Internet use. The project comprised qualitative interviews with young people with ID (n=27), parents of young people with ID (n=22) and professionals in special schools (n=17). The transcribed interviews were analysed, using a thematic content analysis. The project have gathered ethical approval from the Ethical Board of West Sweden (Dnr 048-15).

A prominent finding in the study concerned the young informants being well aware of both risks and opportunities using Internet and Social Networking Sites. Consequently, the more they interacted with non-disabled peers, the more they experienced negative consequences of Internet use. One conclusion was that these circumstances rather lead to downsizing than upsizing Internet use, and as prolongation, less participation on Social Networking Sites.

Although the Internet can be a ‘free-zone’ where the young person can develop social bonds and construct their identity away from adult oversight, parents and professionals are highly present. Young people mostly feel confident but also in no need of support. Professionals and parents do consider the Internet an arena for positive opportunities, but also with risks. The professionals seemed to be more worried about the risks than the parents who state that the opportunities outweigh the dis­advantages. For parents, the real risk is described as the risk of loneliness and social isolation. That parents consider the Internet to be an arena for relationships is an interesting change compared to previous research where both parents and professionals are worried about the risks of abuse etc. Overall, the young people with ID are described as a more heterogeneous group by both parents and professionals compared to previous research. The experiences of the informants are discussed in a conceptual framework of social identity, participation, positive risk-taking, sexuality and emancipation.

A comparative analysis of the results shows how social participation is negotiated and constructed in a dialectical way between young people with and without ID, but also between the young people in the study and adults in the immediate context. By applying an intersectional perspective to issues about identity formation and risk-taking on the Internet, a more relational understanding of the problems and opportunities of digital participation can be made visible. A relational understanding of getting into difficulties implies that risk and vulnerability do not always have to depend on the disability but on contextual conditions and other co-varying factors.

Considering young people’s need for autonomy, it is of great importance that parents and professionals reflect upon the ways that support can be arranged in order to empower young people with ID to participate on the Internet. Providing support for positive risk-taking on the Internet means that adults, together with young people, reflect on how possible risks can be managed rather than how risk can be avoided.

Research Area

  • Barn- och ungdomsvetenskap

Research environment / Institution

  • Barn och unga
  • Institutionen för individ och samhälle

Participants University West

Project Participants external

Lotta Löfgren-Mårtenson, Malmö Universitet

Research Partner

  • Malmö Universitet

Research funding

  • Forskningsrådet för hälsa, arbetsliv och välfärd (FORTE)

Project time

2015 - 2019