Why is this research important?

This research took a closer look at existing findings regarding young people with intellectual disabilities (ID) and social media. There is limited existing knowledge concerning people with ID and the internet, especially considering youth and social media.

Young people with ID may experience unique risks in using the internet, for example bullying or threats, so it is important to understand how best to support these individuals. It seems that most young people with ID use social media in their day-to-day lives, making this specific area one of important consideration.

These researchers identified and reviewed 12 recent articles and examined them for common themes that are important to consider regarding youth with ID and social media. The selected articles were published between 2001 and 2017 and considered individuals aged 11 through 31. 

Research Findings


The internet was found to provide unique opportunities for socialising. Young people with ID use social media to meet people similar to themselves, to expand their social circles, and to keep in touch with friends. Such opportunities may allow these individuals to present without mentioning their ID and participate more fully than they may be able to in other parts of their life.


The research found a number of risks for youth with ID using social media, including financial and sexual exploitation as well as cyberbullying. There are relationships between cyberbullying and self-esteem, depressive feelings, and the frequency with which one uses a computer.


When it comes to sexuality, youth with ID present with concern about not finding partners on the internet. Parents and professionals, however, were found to be more concerned with risks. Parents of youth with ID tended to be concerned about loneliness and social isolation, while professionals working with you with ID tended to be concerned about things like pornography and the risk of meeting strangers.


Youth with ID can explore themselves online, especially because this environment does not constrain these individuals to their disabilities. There is an ability to remain anonymous online, to present as a new person, or to try out multiple identities. Social media offers a unique environment for individuals with ID to develop their identities.


Barriers exist for youth with ID accessing social media. For example, these individuals may struggle to read and understand information, which may impact their participation online. The way society tends to treat youth with ID regarding sexuality may also present a barrier, as positive attitudes toward sex in this population are rare. The authors of this study highlight the role of parental support to help in addressing such barriers and supporting youth with ID to use the internet and social media.


The support of parents and professionals may be of particular importance for youth with ID as they navigate social media. This may include discussion of topics such as sexuality and to approach this area with a mind-set of positive risk-taking, where opportunity for potential failure exists within a supportive and safer environment. Programs addressing cyberbullying may be helpful, as might training in self-determination. These researchers also identify that feeling supported by professionals and parents can help to reduce the negative impacts of cybervictimization, emphasising the importance of a supportive environment for youth with ID.

Practical Implications

Positive risk-taking may be an effective strategy in supporting youth with ID to use social media. Shared decision making and risk management may be part of such an approach. Shared decision making refers to youth with ID working together with parents or professionals to identify positive and negative aspects of social media use. Risk management refers to steps that may be taken to reduce risk and keep youth with ID safer. As part of such approaches, it is important that parents and professionals do not hold overprotective attitudes toward youth with ID. Increasing dialogue and discussion around social media use, identifying potential risks and benefits, and finding ways to handle risks are all important aspects of supporting youth with ID to more safely navigate social media use.


Borgström, Å., Daneback, K., & Molin, M. (2019). Young people with intellectual disabilities and social media: A literature review and thematic analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 21(1), 129-140. doi:10.16993/sjdr.549