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.
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.