INTRODUCTION: This thesis investigates the psychological impact of the internet on
adolescents with Additional Support Needs (ASN). Benefits and risks related to internet
use have been evidenced in the general population. Little research has considered these
factors with young people with ASN.
METHODOLOGY: Due to limited research having been completed with the ASN population
with regards to the impact of internet use, a systematic review was conducted considering
the long -term psychological impact of cyberbullying on children and adolescents in the
mainstream population. In addition, an empirical study was conducted with a total of 36
young people with ASN (aged 13 -18) who participated in one of six focus groups. Group
discussions were recorded, transcribed and analysed using Framework Analysis.
RESULTS: Findings of the systematic review showed that a range of difficulties (including
depression, quality of life outcomes, substance use and aggression) were considered to be
linked to the experience of cyberbullying in the general child and adolescent population.
Although variation between studies existed, the review does show a tentative trend that
cyberbullying is linked to long -term negative psychological outcomes. The empirical study
using Focus Group data identified two main themes: Identity and Connectedness and
Issues relating to Risk. Theme one indicated that young people with ASN were making use
of the internet to develop their own identity, competence and sense of social
connectedness; suggesting that internet use for this group can have a positive impact on
their psychological well- being. Some potential barriers to this were also identified. With
regards to the second theme, it was shown that young people with ASN do experience risk
on the internet. It was highlighted that young people with ASN are aware of a range of
risks online, are able to make use of some risk management strategies to stay safe but also
experience particular difficulties which can negatively impact on their ability to protect
themselves against potential psychological harm as a result of internet use. Considered
together it was therefore found that the internet may provide important opportunities for
young people with ASN with the potential of having a positive psychological impact. This
must be considered however in the context of risks present to this group when online and
their ability to manage these effectively.
DISCUSSION: Findings were discussed in relation to the relevant literature considering the
specific advantages and risks relating to internet use by children and adolescents with
ASN. Clinical implications and areas for future research were highlighted as well as the
strengths and limitations of the current study.
CONCLUSION: This thesis demonstrates that young people with ASN are making use of the
internet and able to benefit from it in the same way as other children and adolescents.
However, this population has also been shown to be at risk online and may be more
vulnerable due to their impaired ability in particular areas of functioning, when compared
to young people without ASN. Additional research into this area is required to ensure that
this group are being adequately supported to remain safe online whilst taking full
advantage of what the internet has to offer.