From the mannequin to Kiki, social media users are always looking for the next viral kick to get them a few likes. Sometimes these get dark, as many teens found out trying the dreaded Blue Whale challenge. This week things got even more inhumane as users of TikTok, the short video app, started posting videos mocking kids with special needs, especially those with autism. This becomes even more egregious when we realize that the autism challenge was a precursor to Autism Awareness Week and was introduced last month to raise awareness about the condition. But TikTok users hijacked the hashtag and took it in a different direction.
After the videos went viral, Kate Swanson, the mother of a child with autism, begged the Chinese app to remove them. “In one, a mother is doing ‘the dance’ with her own kid. Making fun of sounds and hand gestures,” Swanson said in a report. “To ‘that’ mom, I have a message for you: I am shocked. I am sickened. And I am embarrassed for you,” she added.
According to Ayukta Thakur, a special needs educator and co-founder of Integreat Center, a holistic center for young adults with special needs in the UAE, the autism challenge is classic bullying.
“I work with many young adults who are very high functioning. They say they’re autistic and they have job and are very proud of it,” Thakur told Re:Set. “It’s a big thing for many people with autism to step out of their comfort zone. So how hurtful would it be if they see these videos? It dents their self-confidence, their self-esteem. It’s disgusting.”
TikTok has taken down the videos, and searching for autism challenge or #AutismChallenge doesn’t show any results. But the company is yet to make a public statement about the use of their service.
So there’s a trend on Tiktok that challenges ppl to make fun of others that have disabilities… specifically autism ? PEOPLE ARE TRASH ! Literally
— ✨Queen of Zamunda✨👑 (@JoyyUnSpeakable) May 12, 2020
“Why are these videos being allowed to be uploaded in the first place?” Thakur lamented.
“At the end of the day, anyone with a decent level of IQ and humanity would know this is unacceptable. Making fun of people publicly on social media is just another form of bullying, regardless of disability or without disability.