Gillis Williams started posting on TikTok six months after landing in Pullman as a third-year transfer student at Washington State University.
Nearly three years later, he’s an influencer with more than 166,000 followers and nearly 13 million likes on the popular social media platform.
His handle: @autismchoseme.
Williams, aka “The Autism Guy,” uses TikTok and other social media platforms to raise awareness about and advocate for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). He aims to be educational, inspirational, and entertaining, particularly for members of his generation.
“Really my niche audience is ages 15 to 25. That’s my demographic,” says Williams (’22 Comm.). Some of the videos are, admittedly, “pretty cheesy. But they are supposed to be, to show people how much fun I have educating people about autism. You can tell I’m having fun doing this. This brings me joy.”
AutismChoseMe is not only the name of his social media handle but also the business he founded early in his college career. Williams books speaking engagements, sharing his experiences as an autistic individual with young people—he gave a talk at WSU’s recent Disability Awareness Symposium—as well as combatting common stereotypes or misconceptions about people with ASD.
“The biggest one is that all autistics are nonverbal,” Williams says. “There are some, but not all. Most are able to have a regular conversation.”
The second: “All autistics are math geniuses. I can tell you, as an autistic, I’m not very good at math. It was not even my favorite subject in school.
“Another is boys are more likely than girls to have autism. The truth is we don’t know. Boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed; girls are not as likely to be tested. I know a lot of girls who got a very late diagnosis. That’s a huge problem. If you don’t get diagnosed, you miss out on resources and accommodations to help you function in your workplace and at your school.”
Williams was diagnosed with autism in 2005 at age five. As a child, he exhibited self-stimulatory behavior, or stimming, such as repetitive body movements like hand-flapping or walking in circles.
“I would lose focus more often than my peers,” says Williams, who was born and raised in Arizona. “Some of them thought I was weird or obnoxious or just being annoying. They had a tendency to bully me or cancel me out. I dealt with quite a bit of that. It was painful at the time.”
His stimming started to become less common during high school. But, Williams says, “I still stim. I still flap my hands or jump around my room.” It’s something he discusses on his TikTok channel.
“I downloaded TikTok as a joke, just to connect with friends at WSU,” Williams says. “Once I got into it, my mindset changed. It became my main platform for sharing my views.”
Williams had become interested in broadcast news and production during high school, cohosting a radio show. He came to WSU with the dream of becoming an on-air personality.
Working at Cable 8 Productions, WSU’s student-run broadcast organization, he switched his focus to television and developed his following. While he has other online outlets—Facebook, X (Twitter), and Instagram accounts—TikTok holds his highest engagement.
WSU helped grow his confidence and character. Among his biggest influences was associate professor and Cable 8 advisor Marvin Marcelo. “He’s very calm and grounded, and he was always inspiring to me.”
At WSU, Williams says, “I got involved in so many ways that I didn’t expect. I met so many people who taught me to loosen up and not be so uptight about life and just be myself. It shaped me into the person I am today. I’m a much different person than I was a few years ago when I moved to Washington. Those two years at WSU were the best two years of my life”—so far.
After graduation, Williams moved to Oregon to work as a producer on a morning news show. Now, he’s focusing full-time on advocacy. He’s hoping to ramp up speaking engagements, and continue combatting myths about ASD, such as the belief that autism is caused by parenting style or another outside influence.
“It is,” Williams says, “something you are born with.”