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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 65
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Location: Long Island, New York

25 Sep 2022, 8:22 am

Why more young Australians are self-diagnosing common health conditions on TikTok

When popular Australian influencer Ella Watkins first joined TikTok, her feed quickly became swamped with videos about autism.

But, while this content resonated with her, it took the 27-year-old a while to put two and two together.

“I would watch all these videos and be like: ‘Oh, that’s me!’,” she said.

But once they said they were symptoms of ADHD or autism, I would swipe off and be like: ‘Oh, no, that’s not me’.”

Ella says it wasn’t until a very close friend texted to say she had been diagnosed with autism that she began to look back at the TikTok videos - and realised she, too, could be on the spectrum. It prompted a visit to a doctor and a medical diagnosis.

Ella is not the only one to make this kind of discovery through the use of social media.

In what has become something of a self-diagnosing trend, many young Aussies are being alerted to the symptoms of various health conditions as they scroll through TikTok feeds.

Where in previous years Australians often turned to “Dr Google” to find out if symptoms they were experiencing were cause for concern, TikTok’s algorithms often target teenagers and young users with videos about a range of common health conditions, both physical and mental.

While in some cases it can lead to an awareness of symptoms and a diagnosis that might otherwise have been missed, experts say it is not all positive - with many teens racing to their doctors over perceived symptoms they do not actually have.

For Ella, she says in the past she often became very overwhelmed in some social settings but thought it was just a personality trait.

“I’ve always said to people if they had known me when I was younger they would have assumed I was autistic because I was very unique and very particular, but it never crossed my mind that I actually had it,” she told

After her friend - who had always been so similar to her - told her she had been diagnosed with autism, Ella realised she could have it too. Ella talked to her parents and later received a medical diagnosis for autism.

Since then, she has become an influencer raising awareness for autism.

For some people on the spectrum, the increase in online content about autism has changed their lives.

James Macarthur-King, who was recently diagnosed with ADHD, says he uses tips from online videos almost daily.

James said he experienced behavioural issues as a child but it wasn’t until later in life that he was diagnosed.

Now, other members of his family have also been diagnosed with the condition and also use online video guides such as YouTube channel How To ADHD and various TikTok accounts that recommend strategies to better manage the condition.

My mother was running around to try to find out why I had behavioural issues.”

James says he also now shares the video guides with colleagues to give them an understanding of what he is going through.

“It helps them be supportive of me, and helps me maximise my work,” he said.

Experts weigh in
There is some evidence TikTok and other social media platforms are contributing to a growing awareness about autism and, in turn, more people being diagnosed.

However, psychiatrist Dr Tanveer Ahmed told 7NEWS patients should explore other options before committing to prescription medication.

“Being really distractible is almost normal in our times and we have to work harder, beyond just getting a tablet, to be able to sustain attention,” he said.

“We have to be careful we don’t medicalise ordinary problems of living.”

Dr Ginni Mansberg told she has seen patients who had been helped to reach a diagnosis - and learned a lot about their condition - through social media videos.

But she said a proper medical diagnosis was vital, as was expert medical advice, and warned people not to believe everything they see online.

“These influencers ... they have lived experience but not necessarily any scientific or medical background,” she said.

“I’ve had patients come in who have spent thousands on supplements and vitamins that were recommended to them online and they’re never going to work.”

But she also said, in many cases, more content and awareness via social media was helpful.

I’ll spend 10 minutes with a patient but (they) might watch hours worth of videos about a certain topic,” she said.

“And they will write things down and quite often they’ll be right and they’re on to something.

“So it’s important not to dismiss it altogether, but I would draw the line before people spend lots of money on remedies and miracle cures that people recommend online - don’t waste hard-earned cash before running it by someone you trust.

“Look at those comments on the videos, too, to see if the information is backed up by anyone.”

Ella recommends for anyone who sees themselves in traits described in these sorts of videos to speak to a professional.

If you’re seeing these kinds of videos and it’s all really clicking with you, it may be worth going and getting a diagnosis,” she said.

“I think in the grand scheme of things, the percentage of people who are going to self-diagnose incorrectly is fairly small so the risk is somewhat low.

“Because people who may have never realised they have these traits can realise and finally get clarity, and going and getting a diagnosis is going to really help them thrive, I just think that’s so beneficial.”

Once upon a time the topic of “self diagnosing” was a bitter controversy on Wrong Planet. That was then. For the demographic into TikTok professional diagnosis is in most cases available which is for the adult self diagnosers was not and is still too often the case not available.

Like anything with social media you should be careful especially when it involves putting things into your body. Because autistic traits are often the same as other conditions suspecting autism is more fraught. As noted in the article this is often useful as a first step. If it turns out not to be autism eliminating possibilities is part of the learning process.

Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman