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Title: Cultural factors and usability of online social networks by adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Saudi Arabia
Author: Mashat, Alaa Abdulwahab
ISNI:       0000 0004 6500 6067
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2016
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People diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) face difficulties in everyday life with their communication and interaction skills. Previous studies have shown that the use of technologies generally, and online social networks specifically, could be used by individuals with ASD to help them build connections and manage some of their social difficulties. However, most intervention research as involved young children in Western countries. In Arab countries, individuals on the autism spectrum experience the same difficulties in addition to dealing with other issues, such as the stigma within society, a lack of services, cultural rules, and the inability to benefit sufficiently from existing technologies, which are designed according to the culture and language of Western countries. This study focused on exploring and investigating the use of social media by high-functioning adults and adolescents with ASD in Saudi Arabia, and exploring social situations such as family relations and friendships, considering the influence of culture and traditional views on the usability and sociability of social media technologies. Existing literature focusing on technologies that have been implemented for adults with ASD and the use of social media is discussed. In addition, a Framework for Autistic Arabs’ Social Communication and Interaction Technology (FAASCIT) was identified for cultural and technological factors that could have an impact on the use of social media by individuals with ASD in Saudi Arabia, and these factors were explored during the study. The research was descriptive qualitative research, and the data was collected and analysed qualitatively. To investigate the use of social media and to develop and investigate the FAASCIT framework, first, 12 experts in the field of autism and three adults with ASD were interviewed in the first stage. Then 13 adults and adolescents with ASD in Saudi Arabia were interviewed. The online activities and profiles of eight individuals with ASD who were using social media networks or who started using social media were observed, with the focus on five participants who were more able to use social media on their own. The aim of this research was to investigate how online social networks may help adults with ASD who have limited support, and to explore whether online social networks are helpful for managing some of their communication challenges. The main findings of this research showed that individuals with ASD in Saudi Arabia enjoyed using technologies and the Internet. In addition, social media technologies were used by higher-functioning individuals for sharing their interests, selfrepresentation, leisure and also for communication; however, each individual had different preferences and different uses of the technologies. It has also been noticed that photographs and videos in social media played a role in facilitating the online communication and interaction skills for the participants, and provided them with the opportunity to use social media. In addition, the investigation of the identified factors of FAASCIT, such Internet connection, digital literacy, education and support services, language, social rules, and independence, showed that these factors had an impact on the participants’ usability and accessibility of social media, each according to their specific situation. These findings had contributed in adding knowledge to research regarding adults with ASD who were not given enough attention in Saudi Arabia. In addition, this research contributed in providing information for future researchers and technology developers by understanding the needs and behaviours of Arab individuals with ASD regarding social technologies, which could help in the design of inclusion technologies.
Supervisor: Wald, Michael Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available