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Social media has single handedly changed our perceptions of and the dialogue around neurodivergence. But no app has done more than TikTok. Creators—like Matt Marshall, Kunal Pathade, and Ashley Daniels—have built platforms talking about their OCD, ADHD, and autism (respectively), and combatted the stigma surrounding those disorders.
But, of course, increased visibility doesn’t mean increased protection: For every person that speaks publicly about their diagnosis, there are many more making cheap jokes about neurodivergent people and behaviors. And autism has gotten the brunt of this ridicule.
The latest cringeworthy video that takes aim at autism comes from Julia Ain, a bisexual, Jewish TikToker. In her video, she shows a meme that is of a white, straight couple wearing white t-shirts. “Non practicing bisexual” is written on the woman’s shirt and “autistic probably” is written on that man’s.
“Why is this meme the most accurate thing I’ve seen,” Ain says in her TikTok. “I think that men with a sprinkle of the ‘tism are so appealing.”
Understandably, many people with autism have taken offense at Ain’s use of the phrase “a sprinkle of the ‘tism,” as they feel it trivializes autism, which is a developmental disability. Plus, it infantilizes and fetishizes people with autism.
“TikTok has ruined your perception of autism,” one TikToker wrote in a stitch of Ain’s video. “They have watered it down into a quirky personality trait and not the life changing developmental disorder that it actually is.”
Another TikToker said that Ain’s reference to autism made them reflect on being bullied for having the disability when they were younger.
“I didn’t get called r******* as fuck or autistic as shit just for you to be like ‘boys with a sprinkle of the ‘tism,’” they say in their stitch of Ain’s video. “What the fuck does that even mean?”
Why it matters
Ain’s video perpetuates stigma surrounding autism, but it also cements stereotypes about the disorder. Representations of autism tend to focus on white, straight, able-bodied men.
The proof is even in machine learning: Last month, an autistic man asked an AI to create almost 150 photos of “an autistic person.” All but two of the photos showed white, straight, able-bodied men—and the other two showed women.
While they share a diagnosis, autistic people are individuals with separate lives, different experiences, and varied relationships to their diagnoses. They’re not a monolith, and they don’t deserve to be referred to by a cutesy phrase that glosses over the gravity of their condition.
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