TikTok’s top autism influencers

It’s Autism Awareness Month and few places focus on the condition as much as TikTok. The search for “autism” on the social media platform brings up more than 37 billion views. Viral videos include people on all parts of the autism spectrum showcasing how they live with the condition — some dance, some show how they listen to music, some crack jokes — but most simply want to tell others what it’s like being in their shoes. Autism spectrum disorder is a broad term for a variety of conditions that are defined by social communication challenges as well as repetitive behaviors and sometimes intellectual disabilities. Since autism lies on a spectrum, the condition can manifest differently in each person, with some people having more severe symptoms than others. TikTok has helped unveil some of the misunderstandings about autism by allowing neurodivergent people to build their own voices and audiences as well as showcase some of those differences. It’s not surprising, then, that countless content creators have branded themselves as “autism influencers” — with the goal of educating people about the condition as well as using the social media channel as an outlet to help them cope with some of the difficulties they face in society. Here are some of the top autism influencers on TikTok, and how they use their platform to educate people about the struggles, challenges — and positives — about being neurodivergent. Morgan Foley Morgan Foley

With more than 350,000 followers, Morgan Foley brands herself as an “autistic ADHDer” who talks about neurodivergent stuff. Foley talks about what it’s like to be autistic in a variety of situations — like meeting new people, being told to wash the dishes, or even opening up Christmas presents. She discusses terms like “masking,” or the tendencies of an autistic person to suppress neurodivergent behaviors in social interactions in order to present as more neurotypical — which can be exhausting. Through her posting, Foley has helped open up conversations about people who are neurodivergent and reduce the stigma around it. Paige Layle Paige Layle

Paige Layle is one of the most well-known autism influencers on TikTok, with an audience of 2.7 million. Layle is known for posting videos that go viral — some gaining 5 million or more likes — that break down stereotypes about autism. In one viral video, Layle explains why autism appears differently in every patient and how some people may have different autistic traits than others. Layle also breaks down what “autistic meltdowns” might look like for different people. In another video, she highlights one of the positives of her experience with autism. While she struggles to identify what facial expressions mean, she also doesn’t hold the same biases about facial beauty that society does. Instead, she sees all faces as interesting and beautiful in their own way. “I’m not good with faces at all,” she explains in the video. “I don’t recognize faces, I don’t recognize what [facial expressions] mean. I understand what society deems as beautiful… but anytime I look at a face, I’m like, ‘That’s a good face. That’s a beautiful face.’ People are like, ‘I hate my nose, I hate my teeth, I hate my acne.’ I’m like, Why? That’s a good face… I think that’s really cool.” Jenna Friedman Jenna Friedman

In a viral video posted last year, Jenna Friedman explains “stimming” — repetitive movements like hand flapping or waving, finger-flicking, or jumping — and how it manifests in people with autism. The video shows the different types of stimming, including visual stimming like staring at lights or lining up objects, using specific physical movements, repeating words or phases, or listening to the same song over and over again. Friedman, who has nearly 87,000 followers on TikTok, has also devoted her social media work to tackle ableism. “The stigma surrounding autism is very, very large,” she says in one video. “I see it’s getting better everyday. But that’s why I’m such a big self-advocate and so open about being autistic. Reducing that stigma is so important.” Under the video, one commenter notes that Friedman is the “Taylor Swift of autism.” Chloe Hayden Chloe Hayden

As content about autism has exploded on TikTok in recent years, there’s been a bit of a backlash when it comes to that content spurring more young people to be convinced that they themselves have autism. Mental health experts have noted a significant uptick in their patients self-diagnosing autism and other mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This may lead to an increase in anxiety over self-diagnosis, when in many cases, the person doesn’t actually have the condition and they don’t consult a healthcare professional about it. Some autism content creators have faced controversy over the issue. Still, many influencers have pushed back on this, including autism influencer Chloe Hayden, who has more than 800,000 followers on TikTok. In one video, Hayden addresses concerns that her content makes autism “trendy” and spurs young people to want to be autistic themselves. In the video, she notes that it’s better for people to see autism in a positive light rather than a negative one. “I would rather typical kids have a respect/love for autism than have them send autistic kids death threats for being different,” Hayden wrote in the caption. Dr. Ben Rein Dr. Ben Rein

Still, TikTok is filled with pitfalls — like health misinformation, and autism falls into that. According to a 2023 study published in the  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders , among the top 133 TikTok videos about autism, only 27% were deemed accurate, while 41% had inaccurate information about the condition. Another 32% were deemed over-generalized. Not surprisingly, videos created by healthcare professionals were more likely to have accurate information. Increasingly, physicians and scientists are gaining a foothold on the platform and serving as authoritative, accurate voices that counter some of that misinformation. Dr. Ben Rein is one of them. As a neuroscientist, Rein often posts videos explaining the science behind autism, and even discusses some of his research on autism and the brain. Dr. Tommy Martin Dr. Tommy Martin

Dr. Tommy Martin may be known as one of the most popular physician influencers on TikTok, with more than 2.4 million followers. However, recently, he’s also been open about his son’s autism diagnosis — and making sure people are getting the right facts about it. “We honestly did not think he had autism,” Martin says in one video, adding that they ended up going to a specialist to get the diagnosis. “Autism is very complex and has a very large spectrum.” He then cuts to another physician video, who breaks down some of the evidence-based factors and causes behind autism. Amid his other health videos, Martin frequently posts about his son and his experience with autism as a father — both breaking down stigmas about the condition and providing accurate medical information about it.

This content was originally published here.