16-year-old, Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, has reached millions around the world with her message about the need for urgent action on climate change. She has become famous for her speeches and protests over climate inaction in different parts of the world, including a strong, emotionally-charged speech at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit on September 23rd, where she highlighted the lack of action in halting climate change and turned the spotlight onto world leaders. However, there's more at play when it comes to her advocacy: she has inspired people with the fact that she's on the Autism Spectrum and has even embraced it as her "Superpower".
At 15 years old, Thunberg first staged a "School Strike for Climate" outside her national parliament in August of last year. Little more than a year later, her actions have inspired children and adults around the world, leading to not only an estimated four million people joining her in a global strike on September 20th and a movement called Fridays for Future, but also to her being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
On Friday October 11, the Nobel committee in Oslo, Norway will announce the winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. The prize is awarded annually to a person or organization in recognition of peace work and concepts of peace. There are 301 candidates for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, out of which 223 are individuals and 78 are organizations. Although nominations are kept secret, that hasn’t stopped a lot of speculation about who is in the running.
According to odds-makers, Greta Thunberg is a clear favorite to win the prize this year. If she does win, she would become the youngest person ever to be awarded a Nobel Prize - a title currently held by Malala Yousafzai, who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17. In addition, she will become the first to win the prize for environmental work since former U.S. vice president Al Gore shared it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007.
With everything that she has accomplished over the past year and is set to accomplish, choosing to go public about being on the autism spectrum has brought along fuel from those who disagree with her message. From high-profile world leaders and politicians, including Donald Trump (the President of the United States), Arron Banks (co-founder of the Leave.EU campaign), and Michael Knowles ( American conservative political commentator, podcaster, and author) to online trolls, Thunberg has faced a storm of backlash in various ways because of her Autism; attempting to invalidate her message, and with some even calling her "mentally ill". However, she doesn't let the naysayers get the best of her. In a recent Instagram post, she writes:
"Here we go again... As you may have noticed, the haters are as active as ever - going after me, my looks, my clothes, my behaviour and my differences. They come up with every thinkable lie and conspiracy theory. It seems they will cross every possible line to avert the focus, since they are so desperate not to talk about the climate and ecological crisis.
I honestly don’t understand why adults would choose to spend their time mocking and threatening teenagers and children for promoting science, when they could do something good instead. I guess they must simply feel so threatened by us. But the world is waking up. See you in the streets this Friday! #fridaysforfuture #schoolstrike4climate #climatestrike #aspiepower"
She had also took to Twitter back in August and wrote:
"When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning! 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.#aspiepower"
Thunberg tags most social media posts with #aspiepower, highlighting that she has Asperger's and evidently spreading awareness. This deeply inspires those on the Autism Spectrum, with the hashtag #AutisticsForGreta being used in the autism community to show support towards her. Through her advocacy and leadership, she shows that there needs to be more global acceptance and support to individuals with ASD; autistic individuals need to be treated and viewed in society as humans too. The more examples the world sees of openly Autistic individuals in leadership roles, embracing their Autism in both times of failure and excellence, the more likely neurodiversity is to happen.
In a TEDx Talk event back in November of 2018, Greta Thunberg opened up about her Asperger's Syndrome. She explained that "for those of us who are on the spectrum, almost everything is black or white," and continues on to say that she believes that those with Autism are the normal ones. To Thunberg, climate change is a black and white issue: solutions, like a reduction in emissions, will lead to our continuous survival and she believes a change must be made for the sake of civilization.
Watch: Greta Thunberg at Tedx
Her Autism has actually benefited the way she views the global issue. As she states, she became an activist not in spite of her autism but because of it; and it shows as she continuously embraces her Autism on this journey and uses it to her advantage. Autistic characteristics and traits like decisiveness, passion, attention to detail, and honesty allow many individuals with Autism to excel at topics they enjoy and focus on. Her determined stance on the issue is based on the passion and hyper-focus she has towards an action towards climate change; the cause resonates with her and she is determined to pursue a solution. This is evident through her actions as well, such as being vegan, and traveling to the US via boat back in August, refusing to fly or take a cruise ship due to the emissions those modes of transportation cause.
Greta Thunberg has shown strength and heroism on a large global scale, not only in being a climate change activist, but also by inspiring those on the Autism spectrum and showing them that there is endless opportunities for them throughout society. Her continuous drive and singular focus for a better tomorrow are the qualities that make her powerful in society.
Watch: Greta Thunberg at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit