Autistic Heroes

It’s hard not to watch Greta Thunberg speak without being overcome by two things; the first – and strongest – is admiration, and the second is envy.

I don’t envy her the criticism she has had levelled at her. I don’t envy her the comments made by those who have no clue whatsoever about autism. I don’t envy her having her weirdness and normalities constantly examined and measured. What I envy is her self-knowledge and the support of her family.

When I was an autistic teenager I had no idea who I was. I remember the unwavering strength of my convictions. I remember hearing about animal cruelty and being overcome with empathy and a need to stop it. I remember spending hours walking down an abandoned railway track undoing each and every snare-trap I could find, because I couldn’t bear the thought of one rabbit suffering.

I remember my parents telling me that no issues were as black and white as I was making them, and that there would be negative consequences for me if I went through the world with this chip on my shoulder.

I hate the term ‘chip on my shoulder’; I always picture a soggy, cold, greasy chip, balanced awkwardly on my tensed, lopsided body. I worry it will get in my hair and smear me with its chilled repellence (for my American readers, you’d have to picture a thick fry as for some reason you call crisps, chips and chips, fries – ah, the joys of communication).

I remember the frustration at older people; how they accepted things that they should be striving to change, how they couldn’t see how much better things could be if we just decided to make them better. I was told I was young, naive, idealistic, and that I would understand when I was older.

Well, here I am. I turn forty next year, and you know what? I still believe the world can be a better place. I made the mistake of learning not to state exactly what should change. I went down a gentle route of treating people well and believing in them.

I believe we can all do better, but I know that we don’t have time for social niceties now. What we need is truth and clarity, and that is where Greta’s teenaged enthusiasm has done what I could not.

I have spent too much time learning to curb my natural methods of communication, Greta is herself. I cannot imagine how overwhelmed she must feel at times, but the passion of an autistic interest is energising and contagious. There is no mendacity in her, there is no delicacy or coyness, there is only meaning and truth.

At a time when the political sphere rewards those who play games and those who lie, she is a beacon of honesty. When others see her as attention-seeking or a pawn in a bigger game they reveal their own motivations, not hers. For all my learning to fit in, you could not have persuaded me, as an autistic teen or now, to say anything I did not believe.

It is thought by many that autistic people fear change, but in my experience the only change people fear is the change that they don’t feel in control of.

Greta fears that climate change is beyond her control, because it requires action by large corporations and countries as well as individuals. The establishment fears Greta because she will not bow to their demands and is unwavering in her message; they cannot control her.

Autistic people are powerful catalysts in social change because of their focus and passion. It saddens me that I blunted my sword on learning to fit in and keep quiet, when I should have been honing its edge on facing injustice.

Greta Thunberg is the autistic hero that I needed then, and that I need now. Honesty and the truth doesn’t disappear when people lie, it just means we need a bigger voice to cut through them. A clearer voice, a voice that skips the social niceties. An autistic voice.

7 thoughts on “Autistic Heroes

  1. Greta is the autistic voice the entire planet needs! Her bluntness, her singlemindness, even her “oddities” are exactly what is needed. Even her teen sense of having the perfect answer. I hope more autistic teens and adults will use their autistic traits and their passions and help change our world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rhi, you’ve put into words exactly all my messy thoughts. Thank you. I relate to so much of this post, it’s uncanny. I’ve had a niggling feeling towards Greta for months that I came to realise was envy. I was quite ashamed of this but you’ve helped me realise I’m not alone!

    I feel sad that I too blunted my sword and wonder what I could have achieved if I’d stayed.. sharper(?) and not learned to keep quiet*. Alas, I can’t change what’s been and gone. Now there is Greta and she is a model for us all to speak our minds. After all, the world is at stake.

    (*Not that it would have been anything close to Greta’s accomplishments!)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. One thing that has puzzled and angered me in the attacks on Greta is that she is often described as a child. She is 16. She is not a child, and she is plenty old enough to know her own mind.
    I don’t think I feel envy so much – or perhaps a bit. I am old and cynical and tend to think it’s all pointless anyway. So I admire people like Greta, who are trying to make a difference. Dara McAnulty is another young autistic person who is passionate about nature and does a lot to raise awareness of climate change and the activism around it. These young people are driven by their passion, and I admire that, because I feel that I can’t. It does make me a bit sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That passion and energy and belief that people can be better is a wonderful thing. And I hate that the world leaves its mark on us. I have so much admiration for young people following their dreams


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