The mother of a six-year-old autistic boy has appealed to the public to be mindful of the videos they post on TikTok following the emergence of a disturbing trend of people completing challenges that make fun of individuals on the spectrum.
Nicole Duggan, of Glanmire, Co Cork, who is mother to six-year-old Riley, said she is angry about the cruel development.
"Recently we have been posting TikToks to get us through the lockdown. Riley loves TikToks. He loves taking part in them. He loves scrolling through TikTok and laughing at the videos," Nicole said.
"We have really enjoyed it. I have now been aware of a challenge or trend that is going around TikTok where people are challenging each other to make fun or mock someone who has a disability, specifically autism.
"I have been sent videos of parents doing it with their kids, I have been sent videos of young adults doing it on their own. Posting it on the internet and thinking that they are absolutely hilarious and mocking people who have a disability. This has become a trend."
Nicole says that it is an "absolute disgrace" that people think it is acceptable to post videos of this nature online.
If you are the type of person who wants to make a video to mock someone who is a vulnerable person in our society and wants to mock somebody who cannot possibly defend themselves well it says a lot about you. I feel sorry for you.
"There is a misconception when it comes to social media that people have the right to say whatever they want.
"Nobody has the right to mock a person with a disability and think they can get away with it. Nobody has the right to make fun of somebody because of their speech, because of their stims, because of their hand gestures or the way they walk and talk. I will not put up with somebody making fun of people like him (Riley)."
Nicole says the videos are "disgusting and disgraceful."
"A few months ago 'be kind' went viral on the internet and now this starts."
In a statement, the website asiam.ie, which advocates for the autism community in Ireland, says that origins of the TikTok trend are unclear.
However, the ‘challenge’ appears to consist of videos portraying insensitive impressions of autistic traits such as head-rocking, flapping and other stims.
"Many autistic people who have experience of bullying will likely have experience of people imitating autistic traits. The utlimate effect is further stigma on autistic behaviors.
"TikTok appears to have acted against the challenge, with very few of the videos from the original challenge still being visible on the website."
However, asiam.ie urges autistic people or parents likely to be upset by this content to adjust their social media preferences to mute unwanted words.
"In the interest of balance, TikTok users such as Paige Layle or Chloe Hayden are good examples of informative and entertaining autistic content."