Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Neurodevelopmental disorders are characterized by altered functioning of the neurological system and brain, affecting cognitive functions and social behavior. Although social media interfere with offline interaction by reducing the investment of time and resources in them while offering a more immediate alternative to satisfy social needs, they can also simplify the engagement in social contacts. This feature might be suitable, for instance, for youths with autism spectrum disorders, as they can have difficulties in decoding complex social information (105, 106). As adolescence is a crucial developmental stage where interactions with peers occur both online and offline, it is of pivotal relevance to understand the impact of social media platforms on teenagers with neurodevelopmental disorders. With regard to ASD, evidence shows a positive association between Facebook usage and friendship quality, moderated by anxiety levels, suggesting that online platforms might act as a means to improve friendship quality (105). For this purpose, Gwynette and colleagues explored Facebook’s therapeutic potential as a tool to improve social skills in adolescents with ASD. Their web-based intervention, according to the authors, could have the potential to facilitate interventions, leading to higher engagement with peers through the virtual environment (106). In the context of neurodevelopmental disorders, Asperger syndrome is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and non-verbal communication; as a consequence, they could be more vulnerable to cyberbullying victimization on online applications. Findings in the literature suggest that, although adolescents with Asperger syndrome use social media less than their peers, the percentage and frequency of cyberbullying are similar (107). Another neurodevelopmental condition is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is defined by persistent inattention, hyperactivity, and sometimes impulsivity. These features, combined with online- based platforms, might lead to addictive social media behaviors, with further consequences on mental health, productivity, and academic scores (48). Studies analyzing the correlation between ADHD traits and social media found that a large number of adolescents with ADHD own more than one Facebook account, showed greater overuse compared to their counterparts (39), and ADHD symptoms are positively associated with Facebook addictive use (48). Furthermore, teenagers with more marked ADHD traits were more likely to develop problematic usage of Internet-based services and less likely to remit from problematic Internet usage (108).

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