There has been so much negative commentary and attention on Greta Thunberg. As a female autistic person I have been quite shocked at times at what I have observed in the news and social media.
What has stood out to me is the reaction people are having to Greta. And it’s not necessarily about her speeches, her environmental message or her activism. It is more so about her physical appearance, behaviour and mannerisms.
What I see is a reaction to someone that is pushing boundaries and making people uncomfortable.
What I see is a teenage girl breaking ground, pushing herself and being in the public eye.
What I see. Is an autistic female trying to be authentic, spread a message and share detail she is incredibly passionate about.
I see courage. And I see someone standing up for something they feel strongly about.
Autistic people stereotypically have a specific interest area, strong sense of justice and amazing memories. We can also be known for being direct, strong in our opinions and less interested or capable in being social and outgoing.
It’s no surprise to me that an autistic person is so knowledgeable and passionate about a topic they would lead a strike, speak in public at a global level and travel across the world to pursue an issue.
Greta is passionate about the environment to the point of appearing very emotional. She has persisted in her campaign and strike for such a long sustained period and appears to know a great deal about the state of things to come.
When she speaks I see a person who is fearful of what is predicted, sad about the state of things and angry at the inaction. Autistic people can at times appear emotionless and cold, however that can also then be met with periods of high sensitivity and feeling too much emotion which is a challenge to regulate. It constantly amazes me that a young autistic teenager is willing to put herself out there to try to drive change in amongst all the criticism.
Autistic people can at times find it easy to zero emotion. When others see chaos and crumble and freak out, this can sometimes be when an autistic person shines — the unwavering focus on completing a task and driving to do what is needed is an exceptional skill. Yet people confuse this strength as emotionless and strange just like they are confused by Greta’s way of acting when speaking on a panel or to the media.
What I see in those moments is a person in their zone. A person speaking about their passion and trying to convey important messages in a pressure cooker situation. A person who has been thrust into the spotlight to speak out about a topic very personal to them. I see strength, courage and persistence.
I think though many other people are confused. This is an autistic person. They are different from the type of public speaker you are used to in the media. She doesn’t have the on trend clothes. She doesn’t have this seasons hair cut and colour. She is truly her own person.
Greta doesn’t seem groomed like a Hollywood actress or political figure.
Greta is perhaps a step further from what we are comfortable with.
She is different. She has different looks or mannerisms and it is hard to compute.
Think about it. Would her presence be easier to swallow if she was in a preppy outfit with a pony-tail and a smile?
Or dare I suggest it, if it was a man?
Greta is the girl in the schoolyard that other kids point at and tease and say “you’re weird, we don’t like you”.
But what they are really saying is “you are different”. Instead of that difference being accepted and embraced she is bullied.
People say she is overemotional, mentally ill and needs anger management.
One thing I find interesting is the majority of people I see bullying her on Twitter, Facebook or other mediums is adults and in particular grown men.
The younger generation is being raised to be hopefully more accepting of diversity. We hope to see gradual change in the world and in my community I see the school children don’t cringe at the 6 year old transgender student, the autistic girl or the boy in the wheelchair. They have grown up with it.
Adults struggle with the increasing diversity in the world. They shift in their seat when someone is openly queer or expressing vulnerability. Yet they are willing to sit at home on the couch attacking Greta through their mobile phone on social media. Gutless, horrible and sad.
What is interesting though is each time Greta is attacked I think, why are people letting it get to them. Why are they so annoyed?
Is it her passionate speeches?
Some of the delivery may be more aggressive or direct than you are used to. So it gets noticed.
Some of the words are harsh.
It got your attention.
You are uncomfortable. So it is doing it’s job. You are noticing and you are listening.
What I want is for people to stop for a moment and think about why are you so bothered by this person?
Is it really her words?
Is it that you don’t agree with the ideas she is supporting?
Do you not think there is a climate emergency?
And why on earth are people questioning her parents and accusing them of pushing this autistic teen into the spotlight? This cannot possibly be our business.
Or why are we even making speculation about what she does on a weekend or suggesting she needs to ‘lighten up’. We have no idea about her life outside of her passionate moments in the spotlight. So much judgement is being made from a small ounce of knowledge about a person’s life.
Sadly, I think many of you react because of the way she confuses you. Because she is different. And that shows me we have a long way to go with driving further awareness about autism, particularly the variation between not only men an women, but how autism can vary across all people on the spectrum.
What is amazing about Greta though is that she keeps going. She pushes through the harsh commentary and keeps up the fight.
Some of us feel deflated and a confidence hit after negative feedback from a business presentation, a low score on a test, or relationship challenges. Imagine what Greta feels like when the world is attacking everything about her. Yet she continues to get out of bed each day. Most of us probably couldn’t continually take what is being thrown at her. She shows such resilience and persistence in the way she continues on her journey.
The main thing I see as critical is that Greta is a doer.
She is putting herself out there and fighting for our world.
Greta keeps going, despite the horrible things being said about her.
She is standing up for what she believes in, and in doing so being a role model.
We need more doers in the world and less people who just sit back and throw stones.