Greta Thunberg is quickly becoming one of the best known climate activists in the world. She also lives with Asperger syndrome, a mild form of autism.
For the 16-year-old Swedish girl, the syndrome is by no means a handicap. In the fight against climate change, Asperger's is perhaps her greatest strength.
Asperger's syndrome has one added benefit that has aided Greta in her work: it forces her to be brutally honest. This honesty makes Greta Thunberg ability to argue and convey her point so convincingly.
On the other hand, people with autism find it difficult to interpret interpersonal rules correctly. In unfamiliar social situations, those affected are quickly overwhelmed.
People with Asperger’s, like Greta Thunberg, are often very direct and brutally honest, which sometimes causes them difficulties with social interaction with others. This combined with inability to decode social cues isolates many people with autism, especially teenagers, who usually place a lot of emphasis on their place amongst their friend group.
Greta Thunberg is not committed to the climate because it’s ‘in’ at the moment, but because she recognises the very real, imminent danger caused by our actions. People living with autism typically specialise and excel in certain areas of expertise, giving them a sense of security.
Greta Thunberg's confident and convinced appearance has set a gigantic worldwide movement in motion with the "Fridays for Future". However, her efforts have also been met with some pushback: most famously, Preseident of the United States Donald Trump, always one for controversy, has made no attempt to hide his feelings towards her when he sarcastically tweeted in response to her emotional speech after the UN summit in September 2019:
Unflinching in the face of adversity
In a study, British neuroscientist Kristine Krug and her colleagues experimented with how autistic children can be influenced compared to other children.
Krug had 125 children without autism and 30 children with autism play a computer game in which they had to navigate a spaceship around black holes. Meanwhile, they received advice from adults or their peers to steer more to the right or left.
The result: the younger autistic children were still easily influenced by the (wrong) advice, but this was hardly the case between the ages of 12 and 14. Autistic people represent their own opinions with conviction and do what they think is right.
The results of this study are consistent with earlier findings that autistic people attach less importance to social information. It’s also been observed that those that live with autism often attach less importance to their appearance and are less receptive to flattery.
Autistic people are persistent people who often become extraordinary personalities, such as Greta Thunberg. Maybe it is time for a very special person like this young Swedish woman to open humanity's eyes to climate change, as well as the importance of celebrating diversity and eliminating the stigma of autism.