As a parent of a child with learning problems, where do you seek information and advice? If you’re reading this article online, you’d probably say the Internet is a key resource. Through the Internet, one can access hundreds of websites offering information on child health and development, education, and special needs. You can also shop for books, toys, and educational products.

While the Internet is a rich source of information, it isn’t well regulated. It’s critical that you know how to determine if a site is credible, trustworthy, and appropriate for your needs. This is especially true when it comes to information and services that involve your child. Let’s take a step-by-step approach to evaluating a website you visit for the first time.

What’s In a Name?

You probably wouldn’t buy a book without knowing something about the author who wrote it or the institution that published it. Likewise, when you review a website, you’ll want to know something about the people and organization behind it.

Every website has a unique domain name consisting of the main identifier (such as “NCLD” in, followed by a 3-letter suffix (such as “.org”). The suffix tells you something about the website and its sponsor. Some of the most common suffixes include:

.edu educational institutions
These sites often sponsor universities and research institutes and post content related to their research focus. If a faculty member’s name appears in the URL, it may mean the university sponsors this as a personal page for a professor but doesn’t necessarily endorse the content posted.

.gov government agencies (federal)
These sites usually present factual information and have built-in checks and balances to ensure the information posted is accurate.

Unfortunately, the assignment of the certain suffixes isn’t well-regulated, so a suffix may not accurately reflect the nature of a website. This uncertainty underscores the need to evaluate each site carefully. Unregulated suffixes include:

.org organizations (service-oriented, nonprofit)
Be sure to read the organization’s mission statement to understand its underlying values which may influence the content. The fact the group is nonprofit doesn’t automatically mean the content it posts is accurate.

.com commercial business
These sites promote and sell products. Such a site may post information as public service as long as it doesn’t conflict with any of the products being promoted. This can skew the information presented, so that you may not get a complete, balanced view. Some commercial companies present themselves as nonprofits by using the .org suffix.

.net network organizations
It’s hard to tell much about organizations that sponsor these sites. Such a site might be sponsored by a network provider, a commercial organization, or even a nonprofit group.

Scoping out the Sponsor

The next step in evaluating the site is to read what its sponsor says about its values and philosophy. This can usually be found in the “About Us” or “Mission” Web page. This information should be easy to locate from the Home page. To get a sense of which organizations the site aligns itself with, consider:

  • other websites it links to.
  • other websites that link to it.
  • any products and services advertised on the site.

Is the Site Right for You?

If the sponsor appears trustworthy, you’ll want to determine if the subject matter addressed on the site meets your needs. For example, if you have a young child with diabetes, a website that addresses only adult-onset diabetes may not be very useful to you.

For a “snapshot” of the site’s subject matter and intended audience(s):

  • Read the topic index, search-by-subject list, and glance at article lists.
  • If available, review the section called “Is our site right for you?”
  • Many sites will group content aimed at specific audiences. You may see content categories for professionals, for consumers, or for parents. Scan the section(s) related to your interests.

By taking the steps described above, you’ll quickly determine if a website is credible and relevant to your needs and interests. Ultimately, this approach can save you time, frustration, and, in some cases, a registration fee. Once you decide a website is right for you, you’ll want to delve a little deeper by reviewing the content.

Assessing the Site’s Authors and Experts

Who are the authors who write content for the site? What are their credentials, training, and reputation? If the site relies on staff writers, which subject matter experts and institutions do they consult with?

Gauging if Content is Current and Consistent

The content on a website should be kept up-to-date. This is especially important as it applies to research results or “standards of practice,” such as medical guidelines. To check the currency of content, look at the date an article was first posted, as well as any subsequent dates it was reviewed and/or revised. These dates should be clearly stated at the top or bottom of the page. If you find lots of “dead” links within a site, it may be a sign of sloppy site maintenance.

As you review content and links to other websites, compare them to the sponsor’s stated purpose. Check for contradictions between the “mission” statement and the actual content. Does the sponsor “walk the talk”? Does it deliver what its mission statement promises?

Features and Functions

To maximize your use of a website, consider using any special features and functions if offers. These might include:

  • Online community, such as message boards, chat rooms, or product reviews by other visitors to the site
  • Online newsletters, delivered to you via email, alert you to new offerings on the site, as well as related news and special features.
  • Interactive tools, such as quizzes and polls.
  • Resource lists.

Savvy Web Surfing

The benefits of being a savvy Web-surfer are many. You’ll be able to navigate the Internet and evaluate which websites are “the good, the bad, and the ugly” with skill and speed. Whether you’re shopping online for toys or seeking educational information for your child with learning problems, you’ll succeed in locating websites that deliver what you need.

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