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How is Greta Thunberg Affected by Autism?

How is Greta Thunberg Affected by AutismWhat do the famous Albert Einstein, James Joyce, Thomas Jefferson, Emily Dickinson, and Michelangelo all have in common? Although there was no such diagnosis at the time nor any definitive way to prove it, they are all thought to have been on the autism spectrum to some degree, according to modern professionals who have studied the typical ASD characteristics that distinguish them from others; each of these historical figures is also all known to us for their creative genius as well as pioneering ideas and actions during their time on earth. 

The World’s Teenage Pioneer 

A very recent and prominent figure in the world today, who has been making huge waves and who has been open about her ASD diagnosis, is Swedish 17-year old Greta Thunberg. Greta is well-known for her environmental activism and her weekly #FridaysforFuture, which is a movement where youth protest the lack of action on the part of governments around the world on the current global climate crisis. Not only did Greta begin protesting and developing an unprecedented global movement in 2018 at the young age of 15, but she also earned Time’s Person of the Year in 2019, inspiring people around the globe, young and old, with autism and without, to step outside their comfort zone and make a difference. 

“Starting in August 2018, she [Greta] spent her days camped out in front of the Swedish Parliament, holding a sign painted in black letters on a white background that read Skolstrejk för klimatet: “School Strike for Climate.” In the 16 months since, she has addressed heads of state at the U.N., met with the Popesparred with the President of the United States and inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, in what was the largest climate demonstration in human history,” (Time). 

So far Greta has not been dissuaded by Big Bad Wolf politicians, scared off by threats or hate, or deterred by the red tape and intricacies that come along with being a soldier in the political battlefield; and when she responds to someone attacking her identity or refuting climate change, she reciprocates with grace and facts. 

Greta took on political leaders from around the world and passionately spoke to the masses: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction,” she said at the U.N. summit. “And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

There are very few young people in modern history who have made such an impact like Greta has. Others such as Malala Yousafzai and Emma González have made headlines and positive impressions on individuals around the world on crucial issues such as education rights and gun violence; however, their platforms each began due to tragic personal incidents that ignited a fire in them to change opinions and policies in their own countries. What makes Greta different from these young ladies is that she perceived a wider, adverse, global challenge–one that will ultimately destroy our earth–and wanted to start something locally to go globally. She had the altruistic thinking and wherewithal as a young girl to cause such an uproar that it can still be heard if you listen closely. 

And there is one more difference: she has Asperger’s Syndrome. 

Does it really matter that Greta is on the spectrum?

For many of us, finding out that Greta Thunberg has a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome has not lowered our opinion of her—and it shouldn’t. The qualities and characteristics that Greta exudes due to being on the spectrum, along with her other disorders, that often come with the ASD territory, simply make her who she is. 

Greta didn’t immediately come out and tell people that she has Asperger’s because she knew “many ignorant people still see it as an ‘illness’, or something negative,” she tweeted. Instead of viewing herself as having a disability, Greta compared her autism to something mighty and influential: “I have Asperger’s and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm,” tweeted Greta. “And given the right circumstances—being different is a superpower.”

With that being said, traits of autism do not always adversely reveal themselves. In Greta’s case, her diagnosis of Asperger’s and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is evident by the following:

● Her ability to stay hyper-focused on a topic; she has a broad knowledge of subjects of interest

● She is not concerned with fame or status; she does not care about social or economic hierarchies—everyone is on the same playing field

● Her ability to think outside of the box; she brings a highly original perspective to problem-solving

● Her above-average intelligence and talent 

● Her amazing oratory ability 

● She is truthful in what she says and has high integrity; she does not have hidden agendas 

● She does not give in to bullies or what a popular stance may be among others—she does and says what she believes is right and does not mold herself into something based on social expectations 

● She is very accepting of others—no matter their own quirks or idiosyncrasies

What this world needs right now is someone to stand up for it—and that is exactly what Greta is doing. She symbolizes hope for our planet and its inhabitants, perseverance in the face of uncertainty and adversity, and courage. Many young girls and women look up to Greta and are following in her footsteps to bring awareness to climate change in their local communities and beyond. Individuals on the spectrum are excited to see a fellow Aspie—a term Greta uses herself—rise up and be such an influential character. 

To directly answer the above question: no, it does not matter that Greta Thunberg is on the spectrum. What does matter is that she is who she is…and she does not apologize for it. She is a young force of nature that will only continue to grow stronger while helping to save our planet. 

Brittany Wilson

Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University

Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University

May 2020

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