Inside Baby Autism YouTube
There’s a fine line between educational vlogging and fearmongering. I went down the rabbit hole.
A video opens with a young boy, maybe five years old, waving to the camera and chatting animatedly. His words are obscured by a soundtrack and his mother Andrea’s voice:
“This was the first sign of autism that I noticed in my son at six and a half months,” says Andrea, who runs the vlog FoolyLiving, which boasts nearly 138,000 subscribers. “He has since been diagnosed with high-functioning autism and OCD.”
The video flashes back to the baby pulling himself to standing, rolling over on the carpet, and cooing happily at his mother, who speaks sweetly to him off camera. Without Andrea instructing followers to note the child’s repetitive hand movements, viewers might assume they’re watching a home movie of a healthy child. In fact, many viewers did just that and commented in kind. “This baby looks and acts very normal. I don’t get it,” wrote one person. Another asked, “Maybe he does that because he’s a baby and can’t properly control his body? You know, because he’s a baby lol.” A few countered that their kids had done similar things as babies but did not have autism.
But for all those who questioned Andrea’s diagnostic gusto, there were others for whom the footage stoked fear: “Ever since my son started the hand thing, I’ve been concerned. He’s been doing it for about five months now, and he’s seven months old,” a mother wrote. “Should I have him evaluated?” Another parent wrote of her despair over her son, who also flapped his hands as a baby and was never diagnosed with autism but struggled to fit in at school as a teenager. “I feel so helpless,” she wrote, to no response.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was initially considered a rare impairment afflicting only children. Now, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 2014, one in 59 babies will eventually be diagnosed with ASD.
Autism is defined along a spectrum of disability and can present itself as idiosyncrasies and hyperspecific skills, a lack of language, dependency on others for basic care, or anything in between. Many clinicians and historians…