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Safeguarding young neurodiverse people online

9 August 2023

Young male child with back to photographer looking at tablet, wearing headphones

Cardiff University researchers have secured a prestigious Google scholarship to help young people with ADHD, autism and dyslexia better navigate internet risks.

A Cardiff University academic has beaten out global competition to win a prestigious scholarship to fund research into reducing the risk for young neurodiverse people using the internet.

Dr Charith Perera, a reader in the School of Computer Science and Informatics, was recognised as part of the highly competitive Google Research Scholar Program for his proposal for research into safeguarding young neurodiverse people from online harms.

The Google Research Scholar Program supports early career academics in fields including privacy, human-computer interaction, quantum computing, security, systems, and machine learning, among others.

One of only two UK-based academics to be awarded the scholarship in 2023, Dr Perera joins peers from universities across the world including Harvard University, Yale University, Yonsei University, Stanford University, University of California, KU Leuven, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Hong Kong University, and University College London, among others.

Dr Perera said: “We are delighted that the potential impact of our project, ‘Tangible Interfaces for Assisting Young People with Neurodiversity Towards better Understanding Online Harms’ has been recognised on a global stage by Google.

“Young neurodiverse people face particular challenges staying safe online and there is a need for more specialised tools to inform and protect these individuals from online harm. Young people with autism, dyslexia, and ADHD, for example, often find it more challenging to understand information and intent, remember essential information such as passwords, and attend to and monitor risks while on the internet.

“With this project, we aim to undertake extensive research with the goal of providing a tangible solution for young people with ADHD, autism and dyslexia which will allow them to access all of the benefits of the internet while facing fewer risks. This project could have wide-reaching effects for people who are currently under-represented in research around online harm and we are excited to see where our research leads us.”

The project is a collaboration between Cardiff University’s Schools of Computer Science and Informatics and Psychology, and will incorporate the experience developed within the School of Psychology of working with young people with special educational needs.

The project team will work together with a community of key stakeholders, including young neurodiverse people and their parents, to ensure that any product design is accessible and inclusive.

Dr Georgina Powell, a Health and Care Research Wales Social Care Fellow in the School of Psychology who will work with Dr Perera on the project, said: “99% of children aged 12-15 access the internet in the UK. Neurodiverse young people, and pupils with additional learning needs, experience unique challenges staying safe in an online world.

“We are going into schools to run interactive workshops on navigating online harms. In these workshops, we will learn more about the experiences of neurodiverse pupils in staying safe online and managing their privacy.  We’re going to work together to co-create a new intervention to help young people and their families learn about reducing their risk of online harms.”

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