Greta Thunberg shows us that Autism Awareness is Dead.

Homemade sign at environmental rally. A cardboard sign is seen close up, saying stand up and change the world, as eco-activists march for the environment on a street in Montreal, Canada

This is not a post about climate change. This is not a post about the ecological nightmare that our planet is facing. It probably should be. We should probably be united, screaming about climate change, screaming about the plastic in our oceans, screaming about the thousands, hundreds of thousands, of animals facing extinction. After all, without our planet, everything else becomes meaningless.

But it is not. This is about another issue that will have a profound influence on the quality of life and happiness of my children.

Greta Thunberg is a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist. She is also autistic; she has Asperger’s Syndrome – the same diagnosis as my son, the same diagnosis as me. They call us “high-functioning”, because we speak, even though many of us are not, even though “high-functioning” is essentially meaningless. We are as different as any three individuals may be, but there are some things that unite us.

This bright, autistic young woman, is subjected to some of the worst prejudice, bullying and ableism that I have ever had the misfortune to witness. Over the last few weeks, I have been collecting some of the worst examples that have come up on my timeline. At first, I was not sure why. I just felt like I needed to do something with them, that I could not just scroll by without action. I needed to record them, turn them into something else, for my own peace of mind.

Below, you will find what I have collected. I warn you now, do not read on unless you are absolutely sure you want to see. They show the ugliest side of human nature. They are brutal and cruel. They are appalling, shocking, inexcusable.

They will make your heart hurt, if you have one.

Manipulated image of Greta Thunberg made to make her look like a neanderthal with text "Henlo May I peank To Teh CEO of Climat Chang" and comments from facebook posts calling Greta 'retarded' and saying they would like to hit her, throw things at her.

I cannot begin to explain how these images make me feel. I did not do any digging to find them. They just cropped up on my timeline, though admittedly, mostly in groups criticising them. I don’t belong to the other kind of group. I hate to think about what I might find if I actively searched for offensive material relating to Greta.

I feel sick to my stomach. I feel like something is broken and cannot be fixed. I feel incandescent with rage that such things should ever be written about anyone, let alone a child. And I am a stranger to Greta. If I think about her parents reading these, about her seeing such hateful images, I begin to lose all hope for humanity. Maybe we should just let the planet burn.

Greta Thunberg is autistic. Her voice is not quite the same as everyone else’s. Her mannerisms are a little different. The way her eyes move, the things she chooses to look at, they are atypical. She wears plaits, all the time. Who does that these days? Her gestures seem a little awkward. She phrases things in a way that is a little unusual. Her stare is more intense than it should be. It makes people feel uncomfortable. Her passion and dedication are unswerving in a way that is alien, and so they must be feared.

She is different.

When the mask slips a little, I am different. My son is different. His voice is not quite the same as everyone else’s. He phrases things a little strangely. His stare is a little more intense than it should be. His gestures seem a little awkward. And his passion and dedication are unswerving. He could change the world, just like Greta, given the chance.

But there are those who will mock him. There are those who would portray him, face horribly twisted, dribble slipping down his chin, like the images above. There are those who will put the word ‘retard’ next to his face. My heart is pounding in my chest as I type. There are no words to describe the injustice, the rage, the pain, that such a thing is true.

I don’t care if you are a climate change denier. I don’t care if you think she is a puppet or her parents are forcing her into activism. I don’t care if you do not believe a single word she says. I don’t care if you are the President of the United States or a Fox News anchor or the editor of a magazine. I don’t care if you are none of those things.

This. Is. Not. Acceptable.

This is ugly, shameful, reprehensible.

And if you have thought “She is a little strange, though” or “That stare is a bit weird” or “She is a little creepy”, then you are part of the problem and you should feel ASHAMED.

We are all aware of autism. All the hateful bullies above, they are aware. Awareness means nothing. Awareness is dead.

I want to believe that we live in a world that will one day accept everyone – true acceptance, not just a pretence. The treatment of Great Thunberg makes me feel like that is a hopeless dream.

If there is a planet left for us to live on, we will have to wait and see.



For more posts about autism, check out the Autism Category.

13 thoughts on “Greta Thunberg shows us that Autism Awareness is Dead.

  1. It seems that we’re in an era where people are just spewing every hateful thought they’ve ever had behind the “safety” of the internet. Instead of bringing the world together it has sharply divided us.

    I absolutely agree with you. Its disgusting and shameful. My Ben has level 3 classic autism. The stares, the comments, the questions… I try to think of it as an opportunity to educate, but its exhausting. I wonder if people are even listening when I explain or if they’re just looking for more ways to make fun of him.

    Hugs💌🌻

  2. The politicians and news anchors who criticize Greta Thunberg are being ableist to minimize her message. They go on and on about her eyes, her voice, her speech pattern (which is her autism and her accent AND the fact that English is her second language), all to say “See? We can’t trust her!”

    I’m seriously ready to throw a bucket of acidic rain on the next person who gives Thunberg a hard time.

  3. I just don’t understand why any adult would think its OK to mock a child and in such cruel ways. I agree that everytime I see this kind of hate it hurts me. I too am terrified of the word my children have to grow up in. However on a daily basis I am reminded there are more people that care than hate. There are more people that support Greta than mock her and that is what matters. Sadly we live in a world where the people who make a difference have to suffer the consequences of fame. I hope the more we talk about it the more it will change in the future.

  4. Unfortunately, this sort of bullying is standard right wing fare these days.

    However, this may give you a little hope: “Why the right’s usual smears don’t work on Greta Thunberg (She keeps the focus on science, and they hate it.)”

  5. I cried reading this, for I fear you are right. I feel sick looking at those images and comments – what if that’s how people see my daughter? How anyone can think it’s OK to attack a child – regardless of their neurology – like this makes me feel so very, very sad.

  6. I write about autism awareness and I’m afraid I think I am beginning to feel the same way as you. I hate (strong word I know) the world we live in. Two of my sons are autistic, in their teens now and I think understanding is now worse than when they were small. One gets very loud in public as a way to compensate for the anxiety and the stares we get! The other now won’t leave the house, social services paid for 2 visits for enabling, said he wouldn’t engage and never came back. If social services have no autism awareness then we really are fighting a losing battle. I did an interview with You Magazine recently and literally had hundreds of messages from people all in the same position, fighting for rights and awareness. It’s something that occupies my thoughts from the moment I wake to the minute I go to sleep at night. https://www.you.co.uk/what-will-happen-to-our-autistic-sons/

  7. Reading this brought a year to my eye. My brother has Asperger’s syndrome, he’s a really talented singer songwriter, aged just 13, who was invited to perform at Freddie Mercury’s official birthday party in Switzerland just a couple of weeks ago.

    What you wrote about Greta could so easily have been about him. He’s been ridiculed for his monotone voice, and bullied relentlessly by jealous kids to the point where my mum has been forced to take him out if school to home school him.

    The lack of acceptance in this world is horrific.

    I’ve never met Greta but I feel a sense of pride for her and the way she’s conducted herself in spite of the awful language used to talk about her. She’s held her head up high and actually called out this so-called adults.

    She KNOWS that when the personal insults start it’s because they can’t find a coherent argument against what she’s said.

  8. If it’s any consolation, kids mock other kids all day long all
    Over the world
    For every possible difference or “defect”. Without exposure to people with handicaps such as blindness, deafness, retardation , CP, autism, etc etc, how can a person even know how to react … or what to say?
    I work as a tourguide in San Francisco for 23’years, fulltime meeting people
    From all
    Over the world. I have had five private family groups with an autistic son. They couldn’t sign up for a regular bus tour because of the sons’ odd behaviors. Knot to mention the fact that the son might react to the crowd of a big bus…
    Most of the parents would ask me straightaway if I had ever dealt with autisitic kids before, just to warn me that he might suddenly shout out etc etc.
    It was eye-opening for me, even coming from a very intensely mixed up city, to have real contact eg eat lunch with an autistic boy. I never liked teenagers even when I was a teenager, so I approach all teens with trepidation. They can be Terribly cruel and nasty with no help from mental issues… it’s real human nature in gross evidence.
    You are the mother and suffer from your son’s social estrangement … but it is part and parcel of the disease and will remain so the rest of his life. He will slowly get used to it even if you do not, watching him with a healthy mind.
    The real effort our society should exert is prevention, so parents won’t suffer in the future as you are doing.

    1. I am also autistic and I would not change, prevent or cure a single thing about my son or myself. I do mention in article that I am an autistic adult. I do not suffer one jot from anything to do with my son. We suffer from society’s ignorance in relation to neurodiversity. Also, the examples of mocking of Greta Thunberg to which I am referring were very much from adults, and adults in positions of power for that matter. And the attitude that autistic people have a disease and should be wiped out is offensive to me and very much part of the attitude that I criticise in this article.

  9. I myself, also have Aspergers, and I see things from a slightly different perspective as you on this one. Climate beliefs aside, I am acutely aware of the manipulation going on from a political perspective here. I have looked into the XR movement, and found some startling evidence that points to other, more sinister motives and this concerns me not only because I feel this girl has been used as a pawn by multiple knowing adults.

    1. Again, if that is your belief then you are entitled to it. This article is more about the ableist slurs and attitudes that are being directed at her from all directions, including the general public. Regardless of anyone’s beliefs about climate change or her manipulation or conspiracies, using autistic traits to mock someone is not ever acceptable.

  10. They’re making fun of her for being a little dictator wannabe. Most people don’t like dealing with someone calling them horrible people. She sure can dish it out’ it’s normal for people to defend themselves from insults even those from a teen. She wants everyone to change their way of life. Do you actually believe that the world will end because of climate change? Should we use every resource and lower our quality of life because of wild climate predictions. Time and time I’ve been hearing about the Earth ending… ozone layer, acid rain, nuclear plants, deforestation. All the failed predictions of coastal cities being underwater by 2018, etc.
    It’s relevant that people discuss her condition because that condition comes with unique personality traits. We can’t have someone yelling DANGER DANGER and not also inform the audience of her particular way of thinking. Someone being on the spectrum DOESN’T make them immune to fair criticism.

    1. A) Yes, of course we should change our way of life. The world may not be completely destroyed but the death of millions of people and animals is still something we should all fight against. Our quality of life will be much lower when the ice melts, the weather is extreme and we have no food.

      B) Calling someone a retard is not fair criticism. My post is not about fair criticism. It is about abhorrent ableist abuse and bullying.

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