Brittany McGuire, aka Tacobellqween, went viral after she shared a TikTok of her brother, Ryan McGuire, reacting to her wearing a face mask. Ryan McGuire, 28, has autism and when people started asking Brittany McGuire, 25, questions about him, the siblings thought they could use her TikTok account to educate people about autism. Brittany McGuire shares with TODAY how TikTok has bolstered their relationship while helping others gain a better understanding of autism.
When I captured Ryan’s reaction of me wearing the face mask I thought it was a funny moment that people would appreciate. I had no idea that it would go viral and we’d start using social media to educate others about his autism. While many enjoyed seeing Ryan and I hanging out, questions flooded in and some of them sounded intrusive and offensive.
The moments of us hanging out together truly give insight into what he likes and who he is in a way that facts about autism cannot.
Ryan doesn’t have social media and I try to protect him from any questions that feel hurtful. Many people ask what’s wrong with Ryan and my knee jerk reaction is to say that nothing is wrong with him. But instead of firing off witty replies, Ryan and I make TikToks. I don’t think people realize that some of the things they have said are offensive and most people are genuinely curious about Ryan and autism. So we help them gain a better understanding. We have a TikTok where I asked him what autism means to him. He shared that he doesn’t think of autism as an illness but as a disorder. He explained that he often does things differently than other people and processes things in his own way but that he still has thoughts and feelings like anyone else. Hearing Ryan’s point of view is powerful and enlightening.But we don’t just share facts about autism — we also have fun. Ryan tries viral dances with me, he shared his reaction to University North Carolina’s Final Four win (and his disdain for Duke), he offers tips or sports trivia and we share video from social activities we enjoy together. The moments of us hanging out together truly give insight into what he likes and who he is in a way that facts about autism cannot. It allows Ryan to show all his sides, such as when he signed at my grandmother’s memorial because she always enjoyed watching him sign.
When I started my TikTok account it was mostly to keep up with viral dance trends. I'm a dance coach at the local high school and all the students loved it. I had no idea that it would be a way for Ryan and me to become closer. Growing up, I didn’t understand how to relate to him. He loves sports — he is a walking encyclopedia of sports trivia. I would try to talk about sports, but I knew so little and he knew so much. At times, I felt like a bad sister because I couldn’t connect to him.
Making TikToks brought us closer together and helped me to better understand him. I feel more patient with him and it has become a fun way to bond. We only film when he’s up for it and if he’s not in the right mindset we film another day. But often, he’ll ask to make one. He might mention that we haven’t done a “Tip of a Day,” what we call TikToks where Ryan offers advice, for a while and he’ll request we do one. While my mom and I often think of topics to cover, Ryan serves as the expert.
We also share our sibling relationship. Sometimes people think I sound mean if my tone isn’t totally upbeat. But that’s another way to gently inform others. Many people think they need to talk to people with autism like they would a baby. But Ryan doesn’t want that and it’s likely other autistic people would also dislike being spoken to like that. I understand I have to be aware of some of the things I say and do because of how Ryan processes things but I treat him like I would anyone else.
TikTok also helped Ryan come out of his shell. He’s more outgoing and willing to take some risks. When I told him we were going to be on TODAY, I knew he’d have a lot of questions. He dislikes flying because he’s afraid of heights and I knew he'd be curious how we'd spend our time in New York City. So when I told him of this opportunity I was armed with information to help put his mind at ease. Then he was excited. He loves that he has had the opportunity for new experiences, like when he threw out the first pitch at a Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball game or met the country singer Lauren Alaina, his celebrity crush.
Through TikTok Ryan shares his story with the world and helps others better understand autistic people. But for me, having something we do together that helps us bond and spend time together is priceless and what I always hoped we’d share.