The internet tells me of many people in the public eye who may have been autistic
- Isaac Newton
- Stanley Kubrick
- Steve Jobs
- Albert Einstein
However, this week we have all been following the adventures of another autistic person, Greta Thunberg.
To be clear, I have no connection with Greta, or anyone in her circle but I have been struck by the vitriol of the commentary around her recent speeches.
This morning Michael Knowles, a journalist from US website ‘Daily Wire’ during a live TV appearance, described Ms Thunberg as a ‘mentally ill Swedish child’. A couple of weeks ago Australian newspaper Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt wrote she was ‘deeply disturbed’.
Regardless of the opinions of the lady involved, it strikes me, as a fellow autistic person that Greta’s views are being undermined by people who misunderstand her ‘condition’.
According to an article in the Guardian ‘She said she had not been open about her diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum in order to “hide” behind it, but because she knew “many ignorant people still see it as an ‘illness’, or something negative. When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!” she wrote, using the hashtag #aspiepower.’
One in 69 people are estimated to be on the autistic spectrum yet often we are looked on as mad or dangerous. According to the National Autistic Society, autism is a ‘lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them’.
Something I have seen a few times in the commentary around Thunberg is that people must be taking advantage of her or she is being manipulated. As I am unable to speak for any autistic person other than myself but having spent a lot of time researching since my diagnosis, it seems clear that autistic people are very hard to manipulate. We see things as either black or white, we don’t notice the emotions of others and are very good at research. We form firm opinions and stick to them. We don’t take directions easily, we do what we want to do.
Going back to the National Autistic Society ‘Many autistic people have intense and highly-focused interests, often from a fairly young age. These can change over time or be lifelong. It can be art, music, trains, computers, car registration numbers, bus or train timetables, postcodes, table tennis, traffic lights, numbers, shapes or body parts such as feet or elbows. For many younger children it’s Thomas the Tank Engine, dinosaurs or particular cartoon characters. Autistic people might also become attached to objects (or parts of objects), such as toys, figurines or model cars – or more unusual objects like milk bottle tops, stones or shoes. An interest in collecting is also quite common’
It may well be that for Greta Thunberg, her ‘highly focused interest’ is the environment. She has probably spent huge amounts of time researching the topic and, as such, is very capable of presenting her research.
Personally, I have no problem with people disagreeing with her points or not liking her cause but to make out that Greta is not in control because she is autistic is a fundamental misunderstanding of what autism is.
We are now 10 years after the implementation of the autism act and a recent review found there is ‘not enough understanding, not enough services, not enough progress’. I couldn’t agree more.