International Meeting for Autism Research: Pressence of Quality Indicators On Autism Websites

Pressence of Quality Indicators On Autism Websites

Friday, May 21, 2010: 1:15 PM
Grand Ballroom AB Level 5 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
1:15 PM
B. Reichow , Yale Child Study Center, New Haven, CT
J. Halpern , Fordham University, Bronx, NY
F. R. Volkmar , Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT

The number of websites with information on autism is growing. In October of 2009, entering the term “autism” in a Google search resulted in 16,100,000 results. In comparison, conducting a similar search in 1999 would yield 104,950 (Charman, 1999). Research also suggests an increasing number of consumers are obtaining health related information from the internet. Although there are a vast number of autism related websites, little research has been conducted regarding quality of their content, or how the information is used.


The first objective was to develop a tool, the Website Characterization and Quality Indicator Assessment, to accurately assess the presence of quality indicators and key characteristics of websites on autism. The second objective was to use the tool to assess and analyze the presence of the quality indicators on the most popular autism websites.


The sample of interest for this study was the top 100 websites returned when the word “autism” was entered into the search engines of Google, Yahoo, and Bing. To conduct the searches, the term “autism” was entered into the search box on each site’s homepage and the first 100 websites (not including sponsored links) were entered into a database. There was much overlap between search engines, and website often appeared on one, two, or all three search engine results. Because of the overlap within and between search engine queries, a master list was created with distinct entries for each website domain, which reduced the final sample from 300 websites to 164 distinct website results. The Website Characterization and Quality Indicator Assessment tool, which contains eight quality indicators (author’s identity, references, not offering a commercial product or service, not promoting a miracle cure, updated within the last 6 months, personal information did not have to be provided, a contact information or a feedback mechanism was provided, and the site contained a medically oriented disclaimer) was used to determine the presence or absence of quality indicators on the 164 autism websites.  


On average, the 164 websites analyzed for this study suggested autism related websites contained less than 6 of 8 quality indicators. Nearly 1 in 5 websites offered a product or service for purchase, and/or promoted a miracle cure. These websites were also, on average, some of the least likely websites to contain the quality indicators.


These findings suggest consumers must be cautious when obtaining information regarding autism from the internet. Specifically, the finding that websites offering a product or service for purchase and/or promoting a miracle cure contained, on average, a lower proportion of total quality indicators suggest that individuals encountering websites containing these aspects must exercise extra cautions. Additionally, the results of this study do not provide data that can be used to reach conclusions about the quality of the information on autism websites. Further research addressing this issue is needed.

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