Want to Talk About ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia? Head to TikTok
TikTok may be the culprit behind the widespread theory that Helen Keller never existed (Helen Keller existed, people) or cult “mom” drama behind a modular play sofa known as the Nugget, but amid the conspiracies, comedy and commotion, the platform also happens to be holding a new kind of space for underrepresented communities in a way other social media hasn’t quite been able to do before.
Content creators with autism, dyslexia, disordered eating and ADHD aren’t just on TikTok; they’re using the platform to communicate honest experiences of living with a disability, and their voices are being heard and amplified (as opposed to roped off to some far off, hidden location). The same goes for people within the Deaf community who are not only raising awareness of American Sign Language (ASL) and accessibility, but normalizing hearing loss. In fact, as a whole, the openness, self-awareness and vulnerability of this new age of creators is normalizing, well, not being “normal.”
With more than 131,000 followers, Evelyn (@evelynjeans) is a 21-year-old TikTok creator with autism who can school you in neurotypical privilege, get you up to speed on the myths (and realities) of autism and, my personal fave, her valid but context-less hot takes. Chloé Hayden, aka Princess Aspien, with over 263,000 followers, produces very, very funny and somewhat whimsical vids that explore her own experience with autism, ADHD and disordered eating…but she also dabbles in the occasional (and delightful) frog video.
Evelyn and Chloe are only two examples of a larger movement dismantling ideas of neurotypical normalcy, and even just the fact that they’re women and nonbinary is significant. In Marianne Eloise’s Paper piece, “Autistic Women Are Thriving on TikTok,” she explains how the complex, and often misunderstood, autism diagnostic process is biased toward men. This means women and girls have been historically under-diagnosed. “[A]utistic girls are often better at camouflaging their difficulties by mirroring the behavior of other people, which can become exhausting and lead to misdiagnosis,” writes Eloise.
And even though the fact is startling, it’s not information that’s been disseminated to and absorbed by the average person. But…juxtapose that intel with a Doja Cat track, and suddenly you have a generation of native tech users spreading bite-sized factoids and engaging with its creators, asking questions and feeling represented, many for the first time in their lives.
The same goes for the Deaf community blowing up on TikTok. @ChrissyCanHearYou, a Deaf creator with 1.2 million followers shares her point of view in simple, high-energy videos that will make any viewer instantly wonder, “Am I being accessible enough in my life?” (Spoiler alert: probably not.) Otis, the Deaf creator behind @slntwrldddd, with more than 362,000 followers, educates his viewers on ASL and signs brilliantly to music.
Another TikTok trend provides some insights into how people are using the platform for a higher purpose than dance videos (though, to be fair, we appreciate those too). In her recent New York Times article, “Therapists Are on TikTok. And How Does That Make You Feel?” Dani Blume has noticed “a steady stream of mental health professionals [trying] to meet an anxious generation of young people where they are on social media.” Blume reports that mental health content is “flourishing.” Micheline Maalouf, a licensed therapist in Orlando and TikTok creator, told Blume this is because “everyone’s been high-functioning depressed.”
While Maalouf’s statement might be a tad bit of an oversimplification (for some, at least), the therapy trend illuminates one piece of a larger picture: We are having increasingly complex and important two-way conversations about ourselves and our inner worlds on a social media platform that was essentially built on the back of the lip sync.
And that’s kind of a beautiful thing. No, seriously. Who would have thought that ideals of inclusivity and accessibility would have been shepherded to the masses by Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” (a top 2020 TikTok track) like a Trojan horse? Turns out a culture-wide understanding of tolerance won’t come in the form of an avalanche from the top of a mountain; it’s already here, delivered in entertaining micro bites, mostly thanks to Gen-Z.