When her Asperger’s is highlighted to those aforementioned praisers, many of them double back, saying that it shouldn’t matter, or it isn’t relevant. But it isby Lizzie Huxley-Jones / September 30, 2019 / Leave a comment
The last few months of public interest in Greta Thunberg has proved to be an interesting time—particularly for autistics.
Autism is a lifelong neuro-developmental difference that affects how a person communicates, processes information and interacts with the world. Around 1 in 100 people in the UK are autistic, so chances are you know someone who is.
Many autistic people see autism as a core part of our identity, influencing how we perceive and navigate the world. It is strange to observe, then, that while Thunberg is one of the most prominent public autistic people of our time, so much of both the praise and positivity about her consistently ignores that she is autistic.
What is less surprising is how criticisms of Greta quickly sink to ableism, calling her a “mentally ill Swedish child,” or calling her facial expressions “deranged.” There have even been a few references to “meltdowns,” ranging from comparing them to tantrums to outright goading her into them—which is particularly loaded as meltdowns are a specific autistic reaction to overwhelming situations.
The strangeness for me arises with the outpourings of praise, much of which skirts around any mention of autism. After her appearance at the UN Climate Summit, I began to notice a trend of adult women praising Greta’s seriousness or apparent refusal to smile as though it were some act of Lean In-esque feminism and not tied to her autistic-ness.
Intense passion about a particular subject, heart-on-your-sleeve emotions, and bluntness of speech are hallmarks of autism, especially in Asperger’s syndrome—part of the autism spectrum—which is what Greta refers to when she speaks about herself. Greta herself has rightly asserted that, given the right circumstances, autistic people can use their strengths—such as passion, thoroughness, willingness to research a topic until we know everything we can about it, a strong sense of justice—to flourish.
Yes, Thunberg isn’t engaging in gendered-female behavioural standards enforced by the patriarchy, but she is also displaying a number of obviously autistic traits: her lack of smiling may in part because many autistic people have reduced or “strange” (to non-autistics, at least) facial expressions, but also, she’s incredibly serious about what she’s saying, so why would she couch it?
When her Asperger’s is highlighted to those aforementioned praisers, many…