This research explored how parents of children with special needs use social media.
Parents join two types of online groups:
- case-based groups for shared interests (e.g. ADHD, autism)
- geographically-based groups for local interests (e.g. local school policies)
Parents feel more judged offline than online:
Parents of children with special needs find offline interactions (with family, strangers, friends and colleagues, teachers, coaches, etc.) more judgmental than online interactions (on Facebook, Yahoo! Groups, etc.)
Among parents who use Facebook:
- 40% frequently post statuses about their child with special needs
- 34% frequently post photos of their child with special needs
- About 30% post articles, campaigns, or medical information
Parents perceive some kinds of Facebooking about children with special needs to be more appropriate than other kinds
- Parents perceive Facebook statuses containing humor to be more appropriate than Facebook statuses containing judgment or violence
- Parents perceive posts to Facebook groups about achievement to be more appropriate than posts about alternative treatments or social comparisons.
Why it Matters
About 1 in 6 children are diagnosed with some kind of special need in the United States every year. Receiving these diagnoses can be emotionally and economically demanding for the child, their siblings, and their parents. Understanding where parents find information and social support online and to what extent they experience judgment and social stigma offline and online can help us design social media sites to better support their needs.
- Interviews with 18 parents of children with special needs recruited via convenience sampling and snowball sampling
- Surveys with 205 parents of children with special needs recruited via nationally representative sampling
Results are biased towards parents who are willing to participate in an interview or complete a survey. They may be more likely to be involved in their children’s needs and may be more likely to be active in special needs causes. They are also subject to self-report biases.
For more details, please read the full paper
Ammari, T., Morris, M.R., Schoenebeck, S.Y. (2014). “Accessing Social Support and Overcoming Judgment on Social Media among Parents of Children with Special Needs..” In AAAI International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media 2014 (ICWSM ’14). Ann Arbor, MI, June 1-4, 2014.
This research was approved by University of Michigan’s Institutional Review Board HUM00074842.