As an Aspie, I’m worried about Greta

Climate-change alarmists shouldn't be using a vulnerable child to promote their cause.

Tom Clements

During my childhood, I would purposely look for reasons to be disillusioned and depressed about the world. I was introverted, pessimistic and socially awkward, so I retreated, like many young people with Asperger’s, into a world of obsessions that were largely confined to my bedroom. My chief fascination lay in the natural world and, by about the age of 15, I’d acquired a collection of National Geographic magazines so substantial that my bedroom shelf was eventually to collapse under their sheer weight.

Marvelling at the beauty of planet Earth in the form of glossy photographs made me despair at what I thought was the senseless destruction of our planet through a combination of humanity’s indifference, carelessness and rapacious materialism. In time, it made me increasingly misanthropic. Like 16-year-old eco-activist Greta Thunberg, I was convinced that we as a species were headed inexorably towards disaster.

Thankfully, my parents refused to indulge my obsession with the impending environmental catastrophe. Instead of allowing me to stay in my room, brooding on it, they made me go outside and get a job, to learn the value of hard graft. After that, I was much more grounded. My obsession with planetary disaster was replaced by a burning desire to learn foreign languages, to go to university, and to make something of my life. Thankfully, I carried on down that path and never looked back.

Those who fear that Greta Thunberg’s autistic vulnerability may be being exploited by cynical adults are not bigots. They are rationalists. I say this as someone who, like Greta, has a high-functioning form of autism and suffers from a host of co-morbid conditions, including depression and anxiety. Autistic people like Greta and me often struggle to see the wood for the trees. We become fixated on a particular problem, often to the detriment of everything else going on around us. We also often lack balance in our day-to-day lives because of our isolation. The fact that otherwise sensible adults are barely questioning the ethics of publicly exposing and promoting a young girl on the spectrum seems unconscionable to me.

Autism can in some instances confer great gifts, such as an ability to concentrate for extended periods of time, and to pursue special interests at a highly technical level. But these often come at a cost. High-functioning Aspies (people with Asperger’s) are far more likely to commit suicide than the average non-autistic individual. And they almost invariably suffer from some form of debilitating mental illness.

In my case, and I suspect Greta’s as well, the brain’s anxiety switch is turned up to full volume almost permanently. Otherwise banal social interactions are often a struggle, to the extent that even conversing with colleagues at work can become exhausting. As a result, people with autism are at great risk of becoming isolated, morbid and depressed.

Greta’s doom-mongering may stem from a childhood spent fixating on the negative. As a result, she only sees the bad. Consequently, she never mentions the fact that deforestation levels are approaching zero, or that effective renewable energies are being developed at a rapid rate. Everything she says lapses into simple good-vs-bad demagoguery. Her characteristic autistic immoderation may be useful when absorbing reams of information, but in the context of climate change, which is a sprawling and complex topic requiring objectivity and nuance, it is a huge disadvantage.

I am genuinely concerned that, once politicians, journalists and campaigners lose interest in this young girl, it may have deleterious effects on her mental wellbeing. To me and to many others she does not seem at all happy, despite her fame. Her erratic facial movements during a public speech in New York were a classic symptom of sensory overload, which can lead to an autistic shutdown. Continuous public exposure of this kind will gradually take its toll on Greta. Whichever side of the climate-change debate you’re on, we, as mature adults, have to consider the ethical implications of using a vulnerable child to promote a political cause.

Tom Clements is an autism advocate and author from Essex. Follow him on Twitter: @tclementsuk

Picture by: Getty

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Baked Beans

28th October 2019 at 7:29 am

I am distressed by the efforts of many, including the author, to use Greta Thunberg for their own political ends.
The author, like so many, has clearly swallowed the ‘dangers of carbon dioxide’ without making an effort to establish what the problem actually is, or even if it exists at all.
Every, increasingly doomladen, prediction adds directly to a completly unsubstantiated case.
Has it never occurred to the author that carbon dioxide is not only a clear indication of life – anywhre? That more carbon dioxide will make Earth greener and more productive; the Dutch know this because they pump carbon dioxide into their greenhouses to do just that?
Further, nobody, even the most ardent ‘climatologist’, has ever demonstrated that a ‘carbon dioxide’ greenhouse effect actually exists.
I am afraid I regard those advocating control (!) of carbon dioxide in order to control Earth’s climate as simple minded children who adopt ideas they have made no effort to understand, indeed, just like Greta Thunberg.

Anna Cee

26th October 2019 at 7:40 am

“We will never forgive you”! Well Greta, we’re not asking you to.
It has never occurred to you that way before you were born many of us were switched on to the negative effects of climate change, and protested about it.
Instead of bulging your facial blood vessels into a camera do some research about what came before…your know, before 30 year olds. There was lots!
Perhaps next time you’re sitting in the UN, seething and scowling, shout out to some of the biggest earth polluters who are sitting right in front of you. The nations that no matter what we do, or how are Governments fail us, continue to mass pollute unchallenged.

Ven Oods

23rd October 2019 at 7:27 pm

“Greta’s doom-mongering may stem from a childhood spent fixating on the negative. As a result, she only sees the bad.”
On the contrary, she also sees CO2. Her mum told us, so it must be true.

Ven Oods

23rd October 2019 at 7:26 pm

Greta’s doom-mongering may stem from a childhood spent fixating on the negative. As a result, she only sees the bad.

James Knight

22nd October 2019 at 5:46 pm

I think it is XR that is autistic.

Brandy Cluster

22nd October 2019 at 11:54 pm

How DARE YOU!!!:-)

Frances Mac

23rd October 2019 at 6:42 pm

He who dares wins!!!!

Frances Mac

23rd October 2019 at 6:40 pm

I agree. What I find difficult to understand is that peoples supposed care of the planet doesnt appear to extent to avoiding palm oil in their diet or spending less times on their iPads.

Samir Mokdad

22nd October 2019 at 3:58 pm

With due respect Tom Clements, Greta Thunberg is not used by any climate change alarmist and please stop using the words describing her as a vulnerable child.
Greta is not a child, she is a very brave young Swedish girl, admired by hundreds of people around the world, especially among young people for her campaign for climate change.
Instead of criticising her, you should instead encourage her and jeven join to promote her very important cause.

sinik snap

22nd October 2019 at 5:42 pm

i totally agree!

Ian Wilson

23rd October 2019 at 1:23 pm

I totally disagree, so that makes it even.

Richard Wheatley

22nd October 2019 at 5:52 pm

From mosty perspectives she is indeed a child. Agree the sources of climate change and our ability to influence it is an important topic, probably best addressed by grown ups who have the intellectual integrity to make such decisions.
@Tom – Thank you for your interesting Aspie perspective.

Jerry Owen

22nd October 2019 at 6:24 pm

‘Hundreds’ wow, awesome support!

Brandy Cluster

22nd October 2019 at 11:53 pm

She is very much a child and she has the mind and certainly the body of one!!

cliff resnick

22nd October 2019 at 2:27 pm

it’s a case of cynical manipulation

Andrew Leonard

22nd October 2019 at 2:00 pm

Listen to Greta speaking at TED:

“Later on, I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, OCD and selective mutism. That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary – now is one of those moments.”

“For those of us who are on the spectrum, almost everything is black or white. We aren’t very good at lying, and we usually don’t enjoy participating in this social game that the rest of you seem so fond of.”

Not only is she extremely smug (which the TED audience lets her get away with, of course), she also deliberately uses the ‘now’ in the first quote, in a misleading manner – she morally promotes herself, by verbally exploiting her own conditions.

So these conditions Greta claims she has been diagnosed with, seem highly convenient to her doomsday fearmongering. Furthermore, her Wikipedia article does not provide any background to her diagnosis, or back it up in any way. I’m calling bullshit.

Greta Thunberg does NOT suffer from any of the conditions she claims to. This lie, whose purpose is to, when combined with her under-age status, shield her from scrutiny.

Jim Lawrie

22nd October 2019 at 3:29 pm

Good post Andrew. You give some substance to what many of us suspect, and shift the burden onto her supporters and her. One giveaway of a liar is the preemptive claim, with reasons given, that they cannot be lying. It leads me to suspect she has been coached – by amateurs.

Andrew Leonard

23rd October 2019 at 12:28 am

Coached by amateurs, or groomed over many years by professionals?

Andrew Leonard

22nd October 2019 at 11:42 pm

According to Greta, at age 11 or just prior (she is not specific on this point), she learns that humans could be capable of changing the Earth’s climate.

“But no one ever talked about it. If burning fossil fuels was so bad that it threatened our very existence, how could we just continue like before? Why were there no restrictions? Why wasn’t it made illegal?”

“To me, that did not add up. It was too unreal. So when I was 11, I became ill. I fell into depression, I stopped talking, and I stopped eating. In two months, I lost about 10 kilos of weight. Later on, I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, OCD and selective mutism.”

Aside from the fact that losing 10kg would have left an 11 year girl anorexically thin, this begs an important question:

Was Greta diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, OCD and selective mutism, whilst dangerously underweight and suffering from severe depression? This would seem an extremely odd point at which to diagnose these other conditions.

Notice also the vagueness; “Later on, I was diagnosed …”
How much later on? After the depression lifted and her weight returned to normal, or before? Who did the diagnosis? Did Greta’s parents seek out a second opinion? It seems an awfully complex diagnosis to receive all at once.

How do these conditions effect Greta? This is how Wikipedia’s article on Selective mutism opens:

“Selective mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder in which a person who is normally capable of speech cannot speak in specific situations or to specific people. Selective mutism usually co-exists with shyness or social anxiety. People with selective mutism stay silent even when the consequences of their silence include shame, social ostracism, or punishment.”

Do Greta’s speeches at TED or the UN strike you as someone who could possible be suffering SM?

Jim Lawrie

28th October 2019 at 9:51 am

Given her present height and weight, aged eleven she would have weighed, top whack, 26kgs (57lbs, 4 stone). Reducing that to 16 (35lbs, 2½st.) would mean hospitalisation for several months. An episode like that would have severely delayed puberty. Social services would have removed the child from such negligent parents who are fantasists and publicity hounds.

Andrew Leonard

29th October 2019 at 1:28 am

Good points Jim.
Were is the scrutiny from the fawning media?
More specifically, where is the photographic and medical record evidence, to back up Greta’s claims? Perhaps the author of this article could provide some, rather than just taking Greta at her word?

Ven Oods

23rd October 2019 at 7:31 pm

“That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary..”
Same here. But I call verbal conservation.

Winston Stanley

22nd October 2019 at 11:55 am

Sad, the idea seems to be that it does not really matter if she has a breakdown and kills herself, the planet is just so much more important, and if anything that would make her a martyr, a Jesus like figure come to redeem the world, and we would all do penance for pushing her to despair with our eco-sins and change our ways, which would all be for the good. “She died for our sins.”

A Game

22nd October 2019 at 11:31 am

The title worried me, as the whole “Asperger Greta” thing has.
Aspergers as a sub category of autism was ditched in Australia… I could have looked it up if that was world wide… I couldn’t be bothered.
It was realised that people wanted an elite diagnosis of autism, so all the benefits could be attained, with none of the stigma. Of course, many children without autism, getting Aspergers diagnoses.
That Apsergers has been used constantly, incessantly when describing Greta… its been a cheat. Autism… without the stigma. Very unfair. You either have autism, or you do not. (Which was the point.) I’m glad the author took care to say autism for the most part.
I saw footage of her speaking in Canada.
Guess what, folks? Greta was… sunny. Sweet. Caring. Suddenly caring about the 3rd world. We ditch all of our emissions so that the 3rd world can get out of the dirt and use our share of emissions for themselves.
What? What? That’s not the idea of it all, is it? That would just be robbing Peter to pay, Paul, wouldn’t it? Which means the net total of that gas that she can see and smell, would still be in the environement at the same level. And if that’s the case… then WTF are we doing listening to any of it? Time to pack up and go home, Greta.
(And you know… watching her… I’m even wondering if she does have autism, at this point. The change in demeanour in Canada… it shows a mercurialism that just doesn’t jive with autism. So…)
Suddenly all the environmentalists are talking wildlife and biodiversity… obviously they were paying attention to everyone who disagreed with XR and the Thunberg. Now they are owning GW and everything else. How long before they realise they now have a clash? And you certainly can’t take time out looking after the little animals, the time/care/attention/resources required, if you are in a panic because the house is burning. Or all resources must go into halting GW, NOW, or else we are less 6 billion people by 2025.

These people, those who have ridden the showpony of environmentalism all these years, their methods, their “science”, their fascistic control of the “debate”, refusal to allow any dissenters… they aren’t allowed to shift gears. They need to be stood down and replaced by those who have been sidelines, discredited, left to cry out in the dark. They have shown, by their shift, that they had no frigging idea what they have been doing. No more chances for them. Next!

Ghastly people.

Claire D

22nd October 2019 at 9:32 am

It’s good to get an insider’s point of view.
I can’t help thinking that as Greta’s childhood slips away so will people’s interest, which is going to be very upsetting for her. It’s been a cynical business I’m afraid.

Michael Lynch

22nd October 2019 at 9:08 am

It’s despicable behavior by adults who should know better. This movement will go the same way as the MeToo one. It’ll slowly burn away until the next middle class fad comes along to replace it.

Dominic Straiton

22nd October 2019 at 9:05 am

How do you stop criticism of a dumb idea? Get a little girl with pigtails and a mental problem to explain it to everyone.

bf bf

22nd October 2019 at 11:47 pm


Brandy Cluster

22nd October 2019 at 11:56 pm

Physically developmentally delayed and all. The complete horror of child abuse; wind them up with your own ideas and let them fire away. Cowardice 101.

Steve Roberts

22nd October 2019 at 8:27 am

What a fabulous article, written with a huge dose of humanity and concern for a particular person who is being used by others who themselves are pursuing a regressive political outlook that is essentially misanthropic. It does especially highlight that the new younger activists are clearly indoctrinated by mature adults into reactionary regressive ideologies and from nursery school and beyond.It used to be said that the adults in the room should stand up and guide others, to be inspirational, providing reasoned hope and belief in our human capabilities, what we have now -in a minority but influential and supported by the mainstream in all areas of life – are a section of adults that want throwing out of the room and ridiculed for their misanthropy that goes way beyond the effects on the Greta’s of the world, as sad as that is for her.

Jerry Owen

22nd October 2019 at 8:01 am

Greta hasn’t even absorbed ‘reams of information’ as far as I can make out.
Her parents and minders are an absolute disgrace.

Jim Lawrie

22nd October 2019 at 10:26 am

Her parents published a book that trashed their daughters’ privacy. They think the eagerness with which people consume this tittle-tattle makes them, her parents, interesting people. It does not. They are gossip mongers and tell-tales, selling tickets to what amounts to a freak show. There should be a guardian ad litem appointed to protect Greta from her parents and other parasites.

No sixteen year old, regardless of ability, should be subjected to this. The history of Hollywood is littered with them. But even they would not have the temerity to shield a project with the sixteen year old Greta. Unless they thought they could get away with it. For all its rapaciousness, it is taboo in Tinsel Town to piggyback your own flagging career onto that of your child.

Andrew Leonard

22nd October 2019 at 10:59 am

“No sixteen year old, regardless of ability, should be subjected to this.”

The dilemma – a similarly high-profile adult would face tough questions.
The lamestream media are never going to get tough with sweet little Greta.
It’s a masterstroke of PR, and the dilemma is ‘resolved’ with billionaire money.

Michael Lynch

22nd October 2019 at 1:19 pm

Well put, Jim. Hollywood is indeed littered with tales of children being used by parents. This type of despicable behavior will be the nail in coffin for the XR movement. It will burn out and fade away much like the Me Too debacle. These people never learn do they?

Stephen J

22nd October 2019 at 8:01 am

It sure would be interesting to know what rules need to be challenged in order for one’s comments to be automatically “awaiting moderation”? Are they published somewhere?

Stephen J

22nd October 2019 at 7:59 am

Greta is going to be so distraught when she eventually realises that she has been led astray. Once she understands that the people who are telling her about climate change are just a bunch of really cynical globalists, whose objective is to replace democracy, the only form of fair government so far invented, with their exciting globalist dictatorship under the auspices of the UN’s Agenda 21.

Ward Anthony

22nd October 2019 at 6:48 am

If the science is there – and living in arid Australia with our dying barrier reef I don’t doubt it – why aren’t the climate experts selling the message instead of this blatant publicity stunt.
She’s from one of the first of First World countries, is educated, bilingual and is given an international platform to state: “I have been robbed on my childhood!”
She has not.

Jerry Owen

22nd October 2019 at 7:59 am

The barrier reefs aren’t dying they come and go. They have the ability to to revive. Further other barrier reefs thrive more than the Australian reefs because the seas are warmer .

Brandy Cluster

22nd October 2019 at 11:57 pm

Please don’t spoil a hysterical rant with facts.

Andrew Best

22nd October 2019 at 6:28 am

I don’t know any one who has the time for this girl, her followers, her cause
Sorting out the environment, yes
Belong to a doomsday cult, no
We are too poor and struggling to survive, now, not worrying about the future the present takes up all our mental, emotional and physical energy
It’s called, work and bills
No one is going to pay me more money than I make now working to become a protester.
But I am poor and working class not a middle class ex Buddhist teacher

Andrew Leonard

22nd October 2019 at 3:47 am

Why has the fascistic back-to-nature movement placed a 16 year old in charge?
Surely the adult members don’t think sweet little Greta can lead the revolution?
Still, Greta does have her strong points and she is photogenic, in a girly sort of way…

Stephen J

22nd October 2019 at 8:53 am

Ha ha, love it.

Have you noticed how with the help of an app like photoshop or something, the stinkshun rebelliun logo can be turned into the swastika?

Andrew Leonard

22nd October 2019 at 10:45 am

Yes I have.

Compared to almost all environment/ecology oriented groups, have you noticed the unsubtle switch from green – representing Earth’s flora – to red (outfits), representing “the common blood we share with all species” – that is, the Earth’s fauna?

Wait. When did the abstract (as opposed to liquid) concept of blood, ever refer to anything other than a specific collective?
Used in the abstract sense, blood is usually used as a metaphor for genetics. We talk about blood in reference to ancestry, breeding (bloodlines), nations (“the blood of a nation”), and race.

When has blood ever referred to all of humanity, let alone the entire animal kingdom?

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