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Autism Community Rallies Around Greta Thunberg After Bullies Call Her 'Disturbed'


Update: On Aug. 31, Greta Thunberg responded to online bullies who criticized her autistic characteristics and her authentic expressions of neurodiversity. “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!” Thunberg wrote on Twitter, adding:

I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And – given the right circumstances- being different is a superpower. I’m not public about my diagnosis to ‘hide’ behind it, but because I know many ignorant people still see it as an ‘illness,’ or something negative. And believe me, my diagnosis has limited me before. Before I started school striking I had no energy, no friends and I didn’t speak to anyone. I just sat alone at home, with an eating disorder. All of that is gone now, since I have found a meaning, in a world that sometimes seems shallow and meaningless to so many people.

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old autistic climate change activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is once again being bullied online by adults, with many insults targeting her autistic characteristics. The autism community, however, rallied around her this week to highlight there’s nothing “disturbed” about Thunberg’s behaviors or facial reactions.

Thunberg recently arrived in New York after a 15-day voyage via yacht from her home country Sweden to attend a United Nations climate change summit. She first gained public attention when she spearheaded Friday walkouts in support of climate change action among students around the globe.

When she arrived in New York on Wednesday, Thunberg addressed the large and noisy crowd assembled with a message about why her climate advocacy is important. Critics online, however, quickly began negatively commenting on Thunberg’s facial reactions and autistic traits she does not hide. Once again, her critics described her as “disturbed.”

The autism community immediately pointed out there is nothing unusual or “disturbed” about Thunberg’s behavior. The teenager’s reactions to a large crowd, noisy venue in a foreign country while tired are completely normal.

“What kinda hating on young, autistic women bullshit is this?!” wrote Twitter user Astrid. “@GretaThunberg is brilliant. She is educated. She is autistic. I am autistic. This is how we are. But we aren’t ever going to back down because you want to gaslight us. Ever. Educate yourself.”

Advocates on social media said those who harass Thunberg by using words to describe her like “disturbed” are bullying a child for her autistic traits, which she does not mask. Masking, or trying to hide or cover up autistic traits, is common when people on the spectrum feel forced to hide their neurodiversity to make neurotypical people feel more comfortable. This takes a toll on autistic people, which can lead to depression, increased risk for suicide and other mental health challenges.

“Can you understand how hard masking is to maintain?” Mighty contributor Vicki Swan wrote in their article, “How a Lifetime of Masking My Autism Has Affected Me,” adding:

Masking is appearing as normal as the next person, whatever normal may be. The cost is exhaustion. The ultimate cost of masking is burnout. Burnout is different from tired. It is being so tired you can’t move, you can’t think, so tired you can sleep for days, so tired there is nothing left. Inside you feel completely empty; there is just a thick dead blackness.  So tired and broken that death seems welcoming. For me burnout was depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety. Self-harm. Suicide attempts.

Others focused on Thunberg’s “obsession” with climate change. One of the more well-known characteristics of autism (though not every autistic person experiences this) is a deep passion for specific topics, which many autistic people prove is a strength. Lucy Pedrick pointed this out on Twitter:

One of the most common comments about Greta is that she looks uncomfortable (to non-Autistic eyes) when she speaks, that she moves around a lot, and that she’s almost obsessively focussed on her mission to spur the world into action on the climate. But consider this. One of the relatively well known traits of being Autistic – which is generally repressed early – is that some of us have obsessive interests that we like to talk about. A LOT.

This is not the first time Thunberg has been bullied because of her autistic characteristics. Thunberg has said she will not try to mask or hide who she is and she will continue to be the voice of her generation for climate change.

“I am indeed ‘deeply disturbed’ about the fact that these hate and conspiracy campaigns are allowed to go on and on and on just because we children communicate and act on the science,” Thunberg tweeted in response to a recent column calling her “disturbed” in early August. “Where are the adults?”

Header image via Greta Thunberg’s Facebook page