EDITOR’S NOTE: The so-called Austim Challenge appeared on social media in spring 2020, and this article was original published on May 9, 2020. Parentology participated in a webinar about TikTok challenges this week — and this article was discussed, which is why we republished it to the website’s home page.
A new TikTok challenge that originally started as a way to raise autism awareness is now being used to mock the differently-abled. While some TikTok users are using the “autism challenge” to make fun of people with disabilities, many online are condemning the offensive viral trend.
What Is the Autism Challenge?
The Autism Challenge was initially started by TikTok as a friendly means of raising awareness for the condition. However, it didn’t take long for some users to misuse the #autismchallenge hashtag. These people attached it to videos of themselves faking seizures or doing silly dances.
Others attached the hashtag to an earlier, equally offensive dance trend designed to mock the disabled by imitating them.
Advocates for autism and other developmental conditions have vocally criticized the trend. In a Twitter post, advocacy group Autism Speaks called the challenge out.
“We are shocked and disturbed by the recent @tiktok_us challenge that encourages mean-spirited, discriminatory and cruel behavior toward people with special needs, including autism,” the post read.
Parents Urge TikTok to Take Action
Kate Swenson, whose website Finding Cooper’s Voice details her son’s struggles with autism, took to Facebook to blast the challenge.
“To find out that there are people challenging other people to make fun of a person with autism disgusts me,” Swenson said, before showing a video of a young girl performing the challenge. “This girl, this woman, is making fun of the sounds that an autistic person may make — or anyone with a disability — and she’s using her hand gestures to do it.”
Swenson told the Daily Dot that the reaction to her post has been overwhelmingly supportive.
“My video has received nearly 2,500 comment(s) and almost all have been positive in the sense that they are sickened and shocked by this trend,” she said. “People can’t believe that anyone would use their energy to make fun, bully and humiliate, individuals with disabilities.”
Swenson isn’t the only mom of an autistic child who is speaking out.
“I have a teenage daughter with autism an I just immediately saw red when I found out about it,” Twitter user @ProVaxx said to the Daily Dot. “I was absolutely disgusted that people think it’s ok to mock disabled/ autistic individuals in this way.”
A Swift Backlash
Fortunately, the backlash to the trend has been strong, even threatening to overtake the challenge itself on TikTok. Several users have uploaded videos featuring music from the challenge, only to take the opportunity to condemn it.
TikTok also chimed in. A spokesperson for the company told Parentology, “This content does not reflect our values and is against the code of conduct outlined in our Community Guidelines. The original video was removed, and we are looking into and will take action on any further content that violates our policies.”
Additionally, the spokesperson stated that TikTok is committed to promoting a safe and positive app experience for users, and the platform offers a slate of safety tools and features to help users take control of their online experience. This includes ways to report inappropriate content, limit and filter comments, and block users. You can learn more about these features in Parentology’s related stories, below.