Of the nearly 90% of U.S. adults who utilize the internet, over 70% access health-related information for themselves or their family members (Fox & Duggan, 2013). However, health-related information on the internet is of variable quality and is linked to suboptimal patient outcomes (Chisolm, Sarkar, Kelleher, & Sanders, 2015). Through a partnership with representatives of the South Carolina Office of State Fire Marshal (SCOSFM), we identified a potential for misinformation in fire safety messaging and autism. Even when successfully evacuated, individuals with autism are more likely to re-enter a structure and die due to overwhelming stimulation that occurs at a fire scene. Evidence-based information for caregivers of people with autism is needed to address this unique risk.
After clearing the computer browsing history, we conducted an internet search on Google, Bing, and Yahoo using the search terms “autism” and “fire” and related search terms. From the 1,350 search returns, we identified websites targeting caregivers (e.g., parents, family) of people with autism that also contained fire safety messaging. PDFs, blogs, and other documents were excluded, as were websites targeting other populations (e.g., emergency medical services or fire professionals). We then evaluated two domains: 1) appropriateness, usability, and readability using Suitability of Materials and the SMOG formula (Doak, Doak, & Root, 1996); and 2) content using the DISCERN tool (Charnook, 1998) for both autism (using DSM-V) and fire safety (using National Fire Protection Association Standards).
Of the nine identified sites, eight contained relevant fire safety content; the remaining one was labeled as a fire safety webpage but contained dead links and no information. Content analysis revealed readability levels of 10thgrade and higher, and several sites related personal stories rather than information congruent with evidence-based information on fire safety and autism.
Novel partners with specific expertise, such as SCOSFM representatives, facilitate the identification of previously unknown knowledge gaps and the process of conducting research. These findings will be used to inform the development of evidence-based fire safety messaging for caregivers of people with autism.