Parents of autistic children around the world lashed out at the popular app TikTok when the platform allowed videos to be posted by its users as part of the “autism challenge.”
In these challenge videos, background music plays while TikTok users move around and make facial expressions aimed at mocking individuals with disabilities.
The users think it’s funny. But adults with autism and the parents of children with autism find it abhorring.
“As someone who has autism, Asperger syndrome, it hurts me to see people doing this as a joke. I hope (for) people that did the challenge to be educated and learn that this is wrong.”
I just found out about the #autismchallenge & I just let out all of my anger
As someone who has autism, Asperger’s syndrome, it hurts me to see people doing this as a joke & get “clout”
I hope people that did the challenge to be educated & learn that this is wrong pic.twitter.com/jEreWSHzsK
— JohnLovesAnime (@JohnLovesAnime) May 14, 2020
One parent whose sons have autism described the challenge promoted by TikTok as “vile and disgusting.” An autism advocacy and support organization Autism Society of America released a statement last week, pushing TikTok to remove the damaging challenge from its platform.
“Every individual, regardless of neuro-diversity, should be treated with dignity and respect. The Autism Society demands that TikTok takes the necessary action to end this offensive challenge, and apologize to the autism and disability communities for this shameful activity.”
I don’t use @tiktok_uk and I never will. How vile and disgusting to have a #autismchallenge. I fight everyday for my sons right to be seen as equal and with one stupid tik took you could have all that taken away.
— Carla ❤️🏴 (@36Liverbird) May 14, 2020
TikTok has since removed the offensive hashtag and videos from its platform.
But the damage had already been done.
The company did not apologize. The company only clarified its position.
“This content does not reflect our values and is against the code of conduct outlined in our Community Guidelines. The hashtag in question has been removed and we will take action against any further content that violates our policies.”
Mom Lauren Wilson Emmet was personally offended by the TikTok challenge and spoke out on her blog and Facebook page about it. Her 6-year-old son Wilson has autism.
“Bullies are bored … These people are making fun of kids like my six-year-old son, and I am not okay with it. What is funny about someone struggling to get their basic wants, needs and feelings across? Someone who cannot say when their stomach hurts or that they feel hungry, tired or sad?”
Lauren continued to express how the people participating in the challenge don’t understand autism. And it’s just plain not funny.
“The people shown in these disgusting ‘Autism Challenge’ videos take simple things like communication for granted. They are at home making videos about how people like my son move, jump, flap bounce, and dance to express themselves. We are supposed to laugh and be entertained? Well, we are not.”
Lauren shared that when the coronavirus shut down the country, her son struggled. He relies on routine and that was quickly dissipated in the blink of an eye because of the quarantine implemented for people’s safety.
“We are here, listening to the piercing screaming, working on food therapy, language development, self-care, co-regulation and self-calming skills. We continue to work on safety in our home with hopes to get back to working on safety out in the community soon. We are here, painfully watching a 6-year-old battle anxiety. We are his calm in the storm of aggression, self-injury and fear.”
She described her son as tough, smart, gentle and able to understand more than he can communicate.
He also has “more heart than these mindless TikTok ‘Autism Challengers’ probably ever will.”
“Thankfully, for now, these videos break my heart, not his. It completely devastates me that he will eventually cross paths with ignorant people like this. We need to do better.”
What shocked Lauren even more than the thoughtless TikTok users participating in the challenge is that parents were involved sometimes.
“Some were behind the camera and some were even participating in the mockery. We need to teach our children their words and actions carry weight. They affect people, they can hurt people. We need to show our children how to stand up and use their voices when they see people mistreated. Inaction is easy. When we advocate together, change will happen.”
Lauren noted on Facebook that sharing her family’s autism story and putting their opinion “out there” makes them targets and open to both support and criticism from strangers.
But it also draws attention to autism and how others like her son are amazing human beings not defined by it.
She only hopes that others continue to speak up against such behavior.
“…every person who didn’t agree with me that these recent ‘autism challenge’ TikTok videos, where people with disabilities are mocked and mimicked, are disgusting and wrong (seriously?!). There were HUNDREDS who used their voice to say THIS IS NOT OKAY.”
What do you think about the “autism challenge” on TikTok?
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