What is Greta Thunberg's IQ

What Greta Thunberg's Asperger's Autism means

Berlin / Stockholm - When Greta Thunberg gave an angry speech at the UN climate summit in New York, some viewers were surprised. Isn't Greta autistic? And do they even have feelings? Thunberg describes herself on Twitter as a "16-year-old climate and environmental activist with Asperger's". In fact, before that she almost always seemed rationally cool.

The Swede has become a role model for millions of people. For others a figure of hatred. Opponents also insult her because of her autism. Greta is a robot, belongs in psychiatry, and projects her problems onto climate change.

The public image of Greta fluctuates between "child prodigy" and "pathological". There are a number of myths about autism and Asperger's Syndrome. Even scientists do not yet agree on some aspects.

Protest alone

According to the diagnostic criteria, an autism spectrum disorder means on the one hand that those affected find it difficult, for example, to intuitively interpret non-verbal signals such as gestures, facial expressions or eye contact in other people or to understand irony. On Facebook, Greta Thunberg cites her lack of skills in "socializing" as the main reason for initially protesting alone. "If I had been 'normal' and sociable, I would have joined an organization or started one myself."

The second defining characteristic of an autism spectrum disorder is that people tend to be monotonous. For example, you have the desire for rituals, the same dishes or themes. Mostly they also suffer from strong sensory impressions: light and noise appear extremely bright or loud to them.

Ability to empathize

Affected people are said to be unable to empathize with other people. "It is not the case that autistic people have no empathy," contradicts the autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen from the University of Cambridge. Many would have difficulties to put themselves mentally in other people. But empathy - besides this cognitive - also has an affective part, i.e. an emotional reaction to other people.

While autistic people usually have problems in social areas, in others they are sometimes considered true geniuses. Asperger's autistic people in particular are often portrayed as highly intelligent. For example in the film "Rain Man", in which Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic person whose extremely good memory pays off when playing cards. Some companies even specifically employ autistic people because they are considered to be particularly detail-oriented. This can be helpful for error analyzes in the IT area, for example. "Autistic talents can show up in any area where patterns can be analyzed," said Baron-Cohen. For example in music too.

But people with autism are by no means always highly gifted - not even all Asperger's autistic people. Exceptional skill is usually a savant skill, that is, an island skill that only affects one area. And only a few autistic people are savants.

Controversial classification

The intelligence can be very different. Doctors and psychologists have long distinguished between different types of autism based on their level of intelligence. People with Asperger's or so-called high functioning autism have a higher intelligence than people with "classic" autism, Kanner autism. Leo Kanner first described the autism disease in 1943. A year later, Hans Asperger published his habilitation, which gave the other variant of autism a name. But higher intelligence does not always mean giftedness.

In the current diagnostic catalog, according to which psychiatrists classify illnesses, the syndrome is no longer listed as a special form of illness. In 2013, the so-called DSM V (the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) summarized the previously separate clinical pictures for the so-called autism spectrum disorder.

Different kind of perception

Asperger's syndrome was not included in the diagnostic catalog until 1980. But the discussions continue. Scientists continue to investigate whether differences between autistic people are just nuances or indicate separate diseases. Autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen advises having a generic term with subtypes - as in type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Among other things, this would make it easier to understand which offers of help help whom.

Those affected do not agree either. Some see autism as a disability. Others use the keyword neurodiversity to argue that they just have a different type of perception. Indeed, where autism begins is unclear. According to the new diagnostic criteria, many Asperger's autistic people would no longer be considered autistic - according to a meta-analysis this would apply to every fourth person.

Different from superpower

For many autistic people, the diagnosis is part of their identity. Greta Thunberg also wrote on Twitter: "I have Asperger's, and that means that sometimes I'm a little different from the norm. And - under the right circumstances - being different can be a superpower."

Whether autism is a blessing or a curse is likely to remain controversial for a long time to come. The term Asperger's autism has fallen out of favor for another reason: Hans Asperger (1906–1980) is said to have been involved in the Nazis' euthanasia program. Scientists have long advised against naming diseases after people. (APA, dpa, red, October 15, 2019)