What is the Yippee/TBH creature?
If you’ve browsed the internet, you may or may not be aware of a new symbol that is gaining popularity in the autism community. The image, which began circulating in 2021, is known as the TBH Creature. It has also been referred to as “Yippee,” referring to a popular video featuring the character being blasted with confetti as a happy voice shouts “Yippee!” This video has grown to become the dominant association with the character.
As it has gained popularity, the TBH creature has resonated with many on the spectrum. Thousands online have expressed fondness for the creature and what they see reflected in it. Over time, the creature has gained an association with neurodiversity.
What is it about this simple drawing that connects so strongly with parts of the autism Community?
The creature’s face is neutral– without the audio, its emotions are unclear– but with the audio, it becomes a symbol of internal positivity even without strong external expression. Many on the spectrum struggle with their natural facial expressions coming across as unreadable to others, or lack the inclination to emote strongly. This “Flat Affect” can alienate them from their neurotypical peers, making others think the individual is apathetic, sad, or upset, when they are simply expressing themselves in a way that feels natural. The juxtaposition of the creature’s blank face and wide eyes with joyful confetti and happy audio encapsulates how those on the spectrum enjoy rich inner lives with great emotional depth, but may show it in a way that neurotypical folks are not used to.
The creature’s original name– “TBH” or “to be honest,” reflects the idea of letting down one’s guard, unmasking, and expressing the genuine self even if that self may be difficult for some to understand. While masking (trying to act neurotypical) can be a valuable tool for navigating the world, many on the spectrum benefit from finding communities of understanding individuals who can appreciate, relate to, and share in their unique way of being.
The unique strengths of Yippee
The memes and jokes made with the TBH creature may be silly, flippant, and fun. However, they also can reflect genuine experiences of individuals on the spectrum. They can also help neurotypical peers and family members gain valuable empathy, insight, and understanding. Yippee has been used to express feelings about hyperfixation, social anxiety, stimming, and more. Because the TBH creature exists as a blank template, it is accessible for anyone to create and share a variation that reflects their specific experiences.
Autism, in real life and in media, is often associated with difficulties and negative feelings such as meltdowns, social issues, and sensory sensitivity. These are challenges that should not be minimized, but many only see the negative aspects of autism represented. Unlike many other images associated with autism, the TBH Creature did not originate as an explicit symbol, but emerged organically from individuals finding it relatable in a positive way. The TBH creature is, to many, a celebration of the feeling of autistic joy and the unique ways it can be expressed. Even when it is depicting difficult aspects of the condition, the creature is generally portrayed in a humorous but empathetic light, distinct from the often-clinical lenses typically used in media to depict autism.
Not Everyone Likes Yippee
Some dislike the creature and can’t relate to it. The experience of autism is unique to each individual, so it is unsurprising that one image cannot effectively resonate with all who have the condition. It is important to remember that the TBH creature does not represent autism as a whole, and while many find joy in seeing their experience reflected, others may dislike the association or find it disrespectful.
The emergence of Yippee as a symbol has undeniably brought joy, understanding, and community to many. By understanding why the love for this creature exists and creating an open dialogue about what it represents, neurotypicals have a valuable avenue for building understanding with those on the autism spectrum, and those on the spectrum have a tool for connecting with one another. Whether the creature will become as ubiquitous as the puzzle piece or the infinity symbol remains to be seen, but for many, particularly those frequenting social media, it is already quite beloved.
More information on the history of the TBH Creature:
Grace Arnwine is a professional animator and illustrator who has worked extensively on communication icons and other visual support materials for National Autism Resources.