Greta Thunberg is the sixteen year old woman who has been touring the US in the last several weeks, talking about climate change. She is on the autism spectrum. I have seen horrible, nasty things said about her and I must challenge the mean, ignorant statements being made. I do not agree with her position on climate change. I am on the autism spectrum.
Not to be condescending, I will refer to her as Greta throughout this piece. Just because it is the easiest way.
Greta is on the autism spectrum. While it is no longer the name of a diagnosis in the United States, she has what is called Asperger’s. She is not suffering from Asperger’s. Her brain, like mine, is wired just a bit differently than most people. It is no more a handicap or a reason to mock and belittle than is being left handed.
She has discussed her health and has stated that she has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, OCD, depression, and selective mutism. All of these are often diagnosed in persons on the spectrum. Eating disorders are often co-occurring with anxiety. Selective mutism and OCD are related to anxiety. People on the spectrum often experience one or more psychiatric comorbidities.
A mental illness, however, in and of itself, does not invalidate Greta’s arguments and beliefs. She does not seem to be experiencing any sort of delusional illness, just “common” conditions that many others on the spectrum also experience. Pointing to her mental illness as a reason to discount her cause is cruel, and unjustified.
Making the rounds on social media are a series of pictures of Greta and the commenters point out her facial expression. Actually, they point out their interpretation of her facial expression. Factually, unless they asked her what she was feeling or can read her mind, they are unable to state with accuracy what the expression means. That is not stopping them from making some statements such as “If looks could kill.”
Facial expressions for people on the spectrum often do not mirror the emotions being felt. People with autism sometimes give ambiguous looks. Autistic subjects’ facial expressions don’t always mirror emotions. I have often been accused of being angry, unhappy, sad, etc. when I was none of the above. My face does not reflect my mood. Unless you can read minds, do not make assumptions based upon facial expressions.
We all were once 16, and we knew and know people of both sexes who are 16. At that age, emotion is often stronger than intellect, and that passion is expressed by protesting the Vietnam War or the new dress code in high school.
As a person on the spectrum, Greta may very well have climate change as one of her special interests. If so, she knows a great deal on the topic, perhaps more than most of her critics.
In summary, Greta is 16. Her mental illness and her autism have nothing to do with the validity of her cause or her arguments. She expresses herself emotionally, as do many others her age with a cause they believe in. Using her autism or her mental illness to discount her argument or to belittle her is wrong, and those commentators doing so should be ashamed of themselves.