TikTok’s Autism Advice Tread With Caution, Not Confidence

Questioning the Reliability of TikTok as a Source for Accurate Information on Autism

News Picture: Don’t Trust TikTok for Trustworthy Info on Autism # TikTok’s Double Take: Funny Cats, Questionable Autism Info

TikTok, the popular video-sharing platform known for its funny cat videos and makeup hacks, may not be the most reliable source of information on autism. According to a new study, the majority of content on TikTok related to autism is either blatantly false or overgeneralized.

Elisabeth Sheridan, the study’s author and director of the clinical core at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, warns that TikTok can distort our understanding of autism by spreading misinformation or oversimplifying the experiences of individuals on the autism spectrum. She advises taking TikTok’s autism information with a grain of salt.

Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties in communication and social interaction. In the United States alone, it affects about 1 child in 36, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With such prevalence, it’s crucial to have accurate and trustworthy information about autism readily available.

To assess the accuracy of autism-related content on TikTok, researchers focused on the top 133 videos containing the #Autism hashtag. These videos claimed to provide educational information about autism, including its causes and identification.

The results were disheartening. About 41% of the videos were classified as inaccurate, whereas 32% were considered overgeneralized. Only 27% of the videos were found to be accurate. Interestingly, videos created by healthcare professionals were more likely to provide accurate information.

So, what can we learn from this? Well, engaging with TikTok videos shouldn’t be equated with accessing valid information. Sheridan points out that both accurate and misleading information coexist on TikTok with equal authority. Therefore, it’s essential to cross-reference social media content, including TikTok, with reliable sources such as healthcare professionals and credible organizations like the CDC or Autism Speaks.

Autism advocates emphasize the need for caution when using TikTok or other social media platforms for autism-related advice. Eileen Lamb, a director at Autism Speaks and a mother of two autistic children, warns against spreading harmful misinformation. She cites examples of self-advocates on TikTok claiming that profound autism isn’t real or that everyone is equally autistic. As an autistic person herself, Lamb firmly disputes these assertions since she knows firsthand the divergent needs among individuals on the autism spectrum.

Alycia Halladay, chief science officer for the Autism Science Foundation, highlights the dangers of taking TikTok videos as factual. If TikTok recommends untested treatments or inappropriate interventions, it can have serious consequences. Additionally, overgeneralizing autism misrepresents the complexity of the disorder’s spectrum.

While TikTok’s recent addition of a reminder that it is not a substitute for medical advice is a step in the right direction, it’s crucial for individuals to exercise caution when consuming autism-related content on the platform.

Ultimately, let’s appreciate TikTok for its entertainment value but be wary of accepting it as a reliable source of information. It’s okay to enjoy the funny cat videos and makeup hacks, but when it comes to educational content about autism, make sure to seek out trustworthy resources. Remember, trust in TikTok is earned, not granted!

Do you have any experience with finding misinformation on TikTok? Let us know in the comments!


More information:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on autism.

SOURCES: – Elisabeth Sheridan, PhD, director, clinical core, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, and associate professor, Drexel University, Philadelphia – Alycia Halladay, PhD, chief science officer, Autism Science Foundation, New York City – Eileen Lamb, director, social media and social influencer marketing, Autism Speaks – Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Aug. 6, 2023