Is Greta Thunberg intelligent

Greta Thunberg: Why Asperger's Syndrome is the source of your commitment

Thanks to the Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, Asperger's syndrome is currently known to many people. The 16-year-old describes her autism as the source of her commitment to climate protection and part of her history. Why is that? And how can you tell if someone has Asperger's Syndrome?

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Greta Thunberg was only eight years old when she first heard about climate change and global warming. The young person has been protesting against climate change since August last year - and has thus become an icon of the environmental movement.

The Swede has Asperger's Syndrome and sees a connection between her illness and her actions. The 16-year-old wrote in a text that was published on "Medium": "I have Asperger's Syndrome and for me almost everything is black or white."

It is precisely this maladjusted black-and-white thinking that is typical for Asperger's autism. But their persistence also has something to do with Asperger's Syndrome.

Asperger's Syndrome: What Are The Features?

Asperger's Syndrome is a form of autism, albeit in a milder form. It is one of the disorders of neurological development and is considered to be innate. The disease cannot be recognized by the external appearance of a person, the characteristics are weaknesses in social communication and interaction as well as social understanding.

Above all, people with Asperger's Syndrome find it difficult to intuitively recognize and evaluate non-verbal signals from other people or to express themselves in relation to them.

Body language and facial expressions are therefore often as difficult for them to understand as a foreign language is for other people. For example, while nonautists recognize sarcasm, people with Asperger's syndrome often fail to perceive the information between the lines.

Misunderstandings in communication

In addition, they often do not take the social context into account when making statements. This is called "literal understanding", so what is said is taken literally. This can lead to misunderstandings in communication.

Some people also do not know how to start or end a conversation, what topics are appropriate or how to change a topic.

Many also find it difficult to make and build friendships. This is also because they do not understand the unwritten social rules and at the same time find people who conform to the norm to be unpredictable and confusing.

In addition, those affected often have problems putting themselves in other people's shoes when they convey their thoughts, feelings or actions through facial expressions, gestures or tone of voice.

People with Asperger's Syndrome: Often intense special interests

The limited social skills of people with Asperger's Syndrome often go hand in hand with special interests. The interest can be very specific, but it can also be a more common topic. People with Asperger's Syndrome sometimes develop into experts who manage to use their special interests professionally.

That would also apply to Greta Thunberg. Christine Preißmann, doctor, psychotherapist and herself affected by Asperger's Syndrome, explains: "People with autism often have very pronounced special interests that they focus on and deal with much more intensively than other people. That can sometimes be a hindrance and annoyance; when it does however, if a special interest can be put to good use, as is the case with Greta Thunberg, autistic people can often achieve a great deal through their strong motivation for 'their' topic.

People with Asperger's Syndrome also often have sensory hypersensitivity and under-sensitivity. These peculiarities in perception processing can occur in one or in all of the senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, balance and body awareness.

Although they usually do not have a learning disability, the syndrome can sometimes occur together with specific learning problems such as reading disorder (dyslexia), gross and fine motor difficulties (dyspraxia) or attention deficit (ADHD).

Strengths in logical thinking and memory

Asperger's syndrome is not only associated with impairments, but also often with strengths, for example in the areas of logical thinking, attention, memory, perception and self-observation.

In most cases, the intelligence of those affected is normal, sometimes above average. Occasionally, Asperger's syndrome also coincides with giftedness or island talent.

As a rule, people with Asperger's Syndrome also have no language problems. On the contrary: Their vocabulary is often large and they can express themselves in a grammatically correct and complex manner.

Many can also deal better with loneliness and are robust against social criticism - perhaps because they do not even perceive it as such.

In the course of their lives the symptoms change, become more dominant or take a back seat. Affected people also often learn to hide their peculiarities, which makes it more difficult to recognize the autistic pattern from the outside. One speaks in English of "camouflaging".

Diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome

As a rule, the disorder becomes apparent in early childhood. The first signs appear in children from the age of three. The diagnosis is made with the help of a detailed anamnesis (collection of previous and family history), external observations, and psychiatric and neurological examinations.

There are special questionnaires and tests for adults that help with diagnosis. The doctor also consults the parents and siblings and assesses the patient's behavior.

Therapy is not always necessary

Although Asperger's autistic may seem strange to many, therapy is not absolutely necessary. Because many are in a position to adapt socially, to pursue a job or to enter into a partnership.

On the other hand, if the symptoms are severe, therapy should be started as early as possible. "For the people affected, but also parents, siblings, classmates or colleagues, it is important to recognize the autistic behavior pattern in order to avoid misunderstandings, misinterpretations and the resulting conflicts," says Ludger Tebartz van Elst, Professor of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at University hospital Freiburg.

Special outpatient and inpatient therapy programs have been developed there in which autistic people learn to better deal with their being different. For example, you will practice correctly interpreting facial expressions and gestures. In addition, role-plays teach tricks for dealing with difficult communicative situations.

What is the difference in autism?

Autism is often referred to as the "spectrum" because the transitions are fluid: some people are severely autistic, others only show mild symptoms. While early childhood autism was previously distinguished from atypical autism and Asperger's syndrome, today we only speak of autism spectrum disorders.

It is important to recognize that the term autism does not in itself describe a disease, but only a lifelong pattern of perception, experience and behavior. In medicine, one also speaks of a syndrome or a phenotype.

"It is actually the same as with body size," explains Ludger Tebartz van Elst. "Autism exists both as a norm variant and in the sense of a personality disorder or as a real neuropsychiatric illness."

Just as extreme body size can be an expression of a genetic disease or a tumor that produces growth hormones or, as with Dirk Nowitzki, can occur as a standard variant, it is also the case with autism.

Boys and men are more likely to be affected

According to figures from the American Center for Disease Control (CDC), about one to two in 100 people have an autism spectrum disorder. Boys and men seem three to four times more likely to be affected than girls and women. However, this could also be due to the fact that it is less easily recognized in the latter. Because it is not uncommon for them, unlike boys and men, to include social issues among their special interests.

Sources used:

  • Conversation with Ludger Tebartz van Elst, professor of psychiatry and psychotherapy at the University Medical Center Freiburg and author of the book "Autism and ADHD. Between the norm variant, personality disorder and neuropsychiatric illness"
  • Conversation with Christine Preißmann, doctor, psychotherapist and author of the book "Asperger's - Life in Two Worlds"
  • Medium: "Greta Thunberg: The rebellion has begun"
  • "Greta Thunberg - 'Without Asperger this would not be possible here'"
  • "What is Asperger's Syndrome?"
  • Center for Disease Control CDC estimates 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder
  • Brugha, T.S., McManus, S., Bankart, J., Scott, F., Purdon, S., Smith, J., et al. (2011). Epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders in adults in the Community in England. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68 (5), 459-465.
  • Loomes, R., Hull, L., & Mandy, W. P. L. (2017). What is the male-to-female ratio in autism spectrum disorder? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 56 (6), 466-474.