Neurodiversity awareness: Is social media helping or hurting?
It’s no secret that conversations about learning and thinking differences, like ADHD and dyslexia, are growing on social media. There are more than 16 billion searches for “ADHD” on TikTok — billion. Reddit’s neurodiversity community has nearly 50,000 members. And its ADHD community has 1.5 million.
Spotlighting neurodiversity and the experiences of neurodivergent people on social media helps build awareness. It can also provide a sense of community around lived experience. But social media can also play a huge role in spreading misinformation. And it can perpetuate stigmas around learning and thinking differences.
Understood.org recently conducted a study with The Harris Poll. It explored how Americans believe social media has impacted their perception of learning and thinking differences. And it looked at what people know — and don’t know — about neurodivergence.
Our Neurodiversity and Social Media Study found that:
Social media is helping some neurodivergent people connect — and feel seen and understood.
30 percent of Americans say social media helps people feel more comfortable talking about their neurodivergence after seeing others do so.
43 percent of Americans say social media has given them the opportunity to connect with a community where they feel seen and understood on their own journey with neurodivergence.
21 percent of Americans say that social media has helped them better understand what neurodivergent people experience. And it has helped them better understand why neurodivergent people sometimes act in a different way.
Many people feel that social media doesn’t offer trustworthy information on this topic.
51 percent don’t trust the information about neurodivergence that they see on social media.
15 percent of Americans believe social media promotes misinformation for neurodivergent people and increases stigmas around neurodivergence.
Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they don’t have a clear understanding of what learning and thinking differences are. And younger adults (ages 18–34) were surprisingly more likely to accept common myths and stigmas as truth.
Only 57 percent of adults ages 18–34 know that neurodivergent people can be successful.
In comparison, 75 percent of adults ages 45+ know that neurodivergent people can be successful.
24 percent of adults ages 18–34 falsely believe that learning and thinking differences don’t exist.
In comparison, only 7 percent of adults ages 35+ falsely believe that learning and thinking differences don’t exist.
According to Pew Research Center, Americans ages 18–29 use Instagram (71 percent) and TikTok (48 percent) at far higher rates than Americans ages 30–49 who use Instagram (48 percent) and TikTok (22 percent). While younger Americans seem to embrace differences, their greater use of social media could be exposing them to more stigmatizing and non-credible information. This can affect their understanding of learning and thinking differences.
So, what can we do?
Social media can play a positive role if its users pay attention to the source of the information being shared.
Follow credible resources. Engage with professionals and organizations whose content is backed by research and experts. Organizations and influencers like Understood.org and Dr. Sasha Hamdani (@thepsychdoctormd) share credible, easy-to-understand information about learning and thinking differences.
If you think you or a loved one could have a learning or thinking difference, take action. Our study found that nearly 70 percent of Americans would take action if they saw something on social media that made them think they might be neurodivergent. This is great news. Whether it’s tracking signs and symptoms, talking to a health care provider, learning about formal evaluations, or finding out how to get support at school or at work, it’ll bring you one step closer to thriving.
Know the facts about learning and thinking differences. Educating yourself is often the first step in identifying stigmas and combating them. Read more of our research and explore learning differences on Understood.org.
The “Neurodiversity and Social Media Study” was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Understood.org among 2,019 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within +/- 2.8 percentage points using a 95 percent confidence level. For the complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please visit https://mediacenter.understood.org/research-and-surveys.