‘It’s a Superpower’: an Autistic Young Woman Takes Her Message of Inclusion to TikTok
By Matilda Boseley
At 22, Chloé Hayden is outgoing and creative and, with a growing online audience that numbers in the hundreds of thousands, she is unquestionably popular.
But it took her a while to get there. At 13 she had been to 10 schools, had zero friends, and severe depression and anxiety as a result of bullying.
Her psychologist told her parents that home schooling was the best way they could keep her safe.
Other kids never liked her, but no one could figure out why.
“It’s like everyone else has been given a handbook from the day they are born about how to communicate and I wasn’t there for the orientation apparently … I had a sleepover birthday party and bought French braiding stuff to make friendship bracelets. The next day at school they all threw them in the bin,” she says.
Even though it was tough for Hayden to socialise, no one really considered she might be autistic. She was emotional, caring, terrible at maths and, perhaps most importantly, a girl.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics says men are 3.5 more likely to be autistic than women, but it’s unclear how much of this is due to under-diagnosis. A study from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in the US also shows girls are diagnosed later than boys; four years and 3.8 years respectively.
It took Hayden 13 years.
“When you think of autism, first of all you think of men, and you think of very stigmatised stereotypes. Maybe it’s someone non-verbal, or maybe it’s a boy that’s obsessed with trains. You don’t think of a teenage girl who loves going to concerts and loves going to festivals and loves wearing make-up and trendy clothes and likes boy bands or whatever. You don’t think of someone who on the outside appears the same as everyone else,” she says.
Hayden has used her experience as a young autistic woman to build a following on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube under the name “Princessaspien”. Her biggest platform by far is TikTok, where some of her videos have been viewed millions of times.
“I want to advocate for autistic people and I do that in a few ways. I make genuine informative videos explaining things like autism traits that girls and boys tend to have,” she says.Advertisement
“But I also make stuff that I know will get to people that aren’t necessarily looking for it in the first place. So I like to find trends or popular audio on the app that you can relate back to autism or disabilities or mental health or whatever.”
Especially on TikTok, her reach has extended far beyond just the autistic community.
“I’ve had a lot of people that either have friends or family that are autistic, saying I’ve helped them to understand them better. I’ve had like teachers and professors and doctors messaged me back saying ‘hey, because of your videos I now know how to interact with autistic people better’,” she says.
Hayden, and many others in the autistic community, don’t see the condition as an illness , but instead as an intrinsic part of identity.
“I see autism as a superpower, if you look at people at the top of their fields, so many of them are on the spectrum.”
But with online popularity comes online hate, with many claiming Hayden is faking her autism. The most common “proof”: her love of live music.
Splashed across Hayden’s Instagram are photos of her at festivals in rainbow outfits and holding up signs in the middle of concert moshpits.
“So many people have tried to out me as not being autistic because, you know, autistic people aren’t supposed to like loud noises or crowded spaces and stuff,” she says.
Like many autistic people, Hayden has behaviors known a “stims”, which she uses to calm herself when overstimulated.
“I just jump in the air and wave my hands around, things like that, excitable things. At a concert though, when I do that people are just like ‘wow, she is straight vibing’. People don’t notice it.
“I flew over to England just to see Louie Tomlinson … I camped out by the side of the road for three days and absolutely I loved it. But when I got home, I literally could not talk to another person for like two weeks because my sensory overload meter had just blasted over … People don’t see that side of things on the internet though.”
Hayden says some of the worst offenders can be the parents of autistic children.
“I’ve had them come up to me and say ‘Well, that’s all good for you, but my kid’s not like you. You can’t talk because you’re obviously not that autistic’,” she says.
“People talk about high-functioning and low functioning … like OK, I can speak in front of big groups, but I can’t do simple math questions, I can’t drive a car, I can’t cook, I can’t read a clock and I probably never will. Everyone’s struggle is different.
“I think the biggest thing about autism that isn’t necessarily visible is that it’s so alienating … because we’re going through so much, but no one else can see it. Or, when they do see it, they think that person is just a weirdo, or throwing a tantrum. They don’t think ‘oh something else is clearly going on’.”
Hayden’s most popular TikTok is a take on the “anthem” trend, when people rap about different identities or stereotypes. Her “autism anthem” has 8.1m views, with lyrics including “Rainman, Sheldon Cooper; we are more than a clique. Our brains work slightly different in a super cool way,” and “we’re different not less.”
While many of the comments are positive, many are also extremely negative.
But this time around she is refusing to let the bullying get to her.
“I’ve been making videos and being public about who I am since I was 16. So, after that amount of time, you kind of get used to the fact that these are the sorts of response you’re going to get. It sucks and it hurts, but you have to brush it off … The boys who don’t really know what they are talking about and are just doing it for a few views, they don’t really matter,” she says.
“And I’ve had teenage boys, who don’t look like the sort of people that would be encouraging, message me saying ‘hey, I’ve realised in the past I haven’t been kind to these sorts of people’, and saying that they know better now … Like, if I have one person that sees it, and it’s changed their life or perception, and it’s made a difference to them, it’s worth it.”