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TikTok and Autism

#autismchallenge

In general, Tik Tok has provided exciting and valuable entertainment. However, it seems that Tik Tok can be abused by narrow-minded individuals who spread offensive material such as #autismchallenge (since taken down due to advocacy pressure). While these videos have been taken down, this still raises a serious question, how is Tik Tok and other social media platforms treating marginalize people?  #autismchallenge is a series of videos that show autistic young people dancing exhibiting stereotypical autistic behaviors – such as stimming and head rocking – making fun of autistic people. There is a discussion about whether or not these videos are appropriate as educational tools about autism.  By viewing the videos, it can be argued that every autistic person, exhibits the behaviors on the videos – which is not valid.  Additionally, how do the videos “educate” the public about autism? If there is an educational value to these videos, I certainly missed it.

Perhaps, most alarming, there is the opinion that autistic persons are being bullied and made fun of in the videos. In today’s society (as always) certain individuals/groups have been bullied for who they are. Usually, bullying involves a power element and irrational thinking. These videos appear to set autistic people up to be bullied by perfect people (I don’t know any perfect people, do you?).

So, What Needs to Happen?

As a veteran educator who has worked with marginalized groups, misinformation is routine. If the goal of these videos was to educate the public about autism, they failed.  Here is why. As with educational projects, you need to have participants from the group involved at the table.  Autistic people need to be involved whenever autism is discussed. As a result, policies can be made that will benefit autistic people and teach others without misinformation. As I viewed the videos, I question if the individuals were actually autistic persons. Nor do the videos portray autism as it is. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) states that “there is no one way to be autistic. Some autistic people can speak, and some autistic people need to communicate in other ways.  Some autistic people also have intellectual disabilities, and some autistic people don’t.  Some autistic people need a lot of help in their day-to-day lives, and some autistic people only need a little help”. As a result, there are many different sides to autism, not just the side portrayed in the videos. Let’s be more educated than that slanted view.

As for me, there are too many questions left unanswered about this issue. But at face value, I find the videos offensive and grossly unfair.  What I know is that all people must be treated fairly and justly. No one likes to be picked on or bullied. I have a family member who has autism who stims and is non-verbal. I know the challenges he goes through daily and am proud of his accomplishments. I am also proud of our family who has accepted him for who he is, and we all love him unconditionally. Honestly, my family had little knowledge about autism until we came face-to-face with the disability. Yes, public education about autism is important, but how to proceed is equally important. We must bring autistic people to the discussion table and listen to those who are affected.

Written by PJ Larsen, Ed. D., Veteran classroom teacher, college professor, and adventure traveler.

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