March 23, 2015

The Twizzler Challenge got started on "Night of Too Many Stars" fundraiser when “Today” show’s Willie Geist and Uzo Aduba of “Orange Is the New Black” were challenged to share a Twizzler ala “Lady and the Tramp” style. (Screengrab/YouTube)
“Today” show’s Willie Geist and Uzo Aduba of “Orange Is the New Black” were challenged to share a Twizzler  (Screengrab/YouTube)

Anyone who was on social media last summer surely remembers the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge which raised 118 million dollars. Videos of people being doused with icy water went viral, in the name of raising awareness and funds for ALS research. Now, it appears that autism has its own ice bucket challenge in the form of eating Twizzler licorice with a friend, Lady and the Tramp style.

The trend started on Jon Stewart’s fundraiser Night of Too Many Stars, and quickly took off when Meredith Vieira and Willie Geist reprised the scene on her show on March 12. The Meredith Vieira Show kicked it off by donating $5,000 to the New York Collaborates For Autism and challenging Matt Lauer and Kathie Lee Gifford to follow-up and nominating others to do the same.

Is the Twizzler’s Challenge a good thing for the autistic and autism communities?

Will it raise money, and awareness, like the ice bucket challenge did for ALS, or is it just a cute, trendy phase that will pass without really making a real difference? How do those who are living with autism feel about it?

A Google search for Twizzler challenge brings up page after page of reports on different celebrities sharing awkward kisses in the middle of a Twizzler. While autism is mentioned in these articles, the main focus is on spotlighting celebrities doing their “good deed” for the week. There is little information about the condition itself, or of responses from those who are actually diagnosed with autism.

On March 19, Autism Daily Newscast shared a meme on Facebook and posted a request for comments on both Twitter and Reddit encouraging members of the autistic and autism communities to speak out. While some were encouraged by the increased awareness the challenge will bring to autism, others were less impressed. Here are some of the comments:

@AutismDNews I’m not fond of it, Y not be – should b . Twizzlers ≠ autism

Lakin Alexander via Facebook
As a parent of a child whom has Autism I think the challenge could raise much more awareness if the contestants named three facts about Autism. I don’t think it’s just enough to raise money for one charity. I believe it’s more beneficial to the community to raise true awareness through educating society about Autism.
Many bloggers and Facebook pages are upset with the challenge. This I believe is because it doesn’t educate people. To me education, acceptance,  and understanding beat a charity donation any day. Why not take advantage and do both.

Chlorophilia via reddit
A problem with the Ice Bucket Challenge was that whilst it did raise a lot of money, I have very serious doubts that it actually had any significant positive long term impact. The vast majority of people didn’t do it for ALS, they did it because everyone else was doing it, because it was a fad, because they wanted to show off. It was yet another excuse for people to make videos of themselves to improve their social media status.

tulip_angel via reddit
I am completely baffled on how eating licorice will promote Autism awareness at all, let alone positively.

ChicaneryBear via reddit
It’s ridiculous and only works in America. Twizzlers aren’t sold outside the US/CA but autism awareness (i.e. other than the well known aspects of ASDs like social awkwardness and eye contact) needs to be raised globally.


The following response is from Facebook that has been shared on various social media sites. It was originally posted by Landon Bryce on ThAutcast: Aspergers and Autism Community

Dear People Who Are Doing the Twizzler Challenge to Raise “Autism Awareness,”

I know you mean to help. I know you think you are helping. Please know that I am grateful for those good intentions.
I am an autistic person. Publicity stunts like this do nothing to make my life better easier or better. Seeing celebrities kiss does not let anyone know anything about the challenges autistic people face, the talents we have, or the support we need.

The way to help people understand autism is to let them see, hear, and interact with autistic people. If what you are doing is putting on a hat or shining a blue light or eating licorice, you are ignoring autistic experience in favor of autism awareness.

You are continuing the trend of treating us as objects and victims who have nothing worthwhile to say about our own lives.

If you actually cared about autistic people, you would listen to us, not use us as a chance to show off how cute and caring you are.

Landon Bryce

What do you think of the Twizzler Challenge? Will it be an effective campaign promoting autism awareness, or just another social media fad that will fizzle out without making a true impact on the lives of individuals living with autism?

About the author 

Laurel Joss

Laurel Joss is a freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She worked as an RDI® Program Certified Consultant and has published articles in Autism Spectrum Quarterly and on her blog She is a mother to two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. You can also follow her on and

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