MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — You may have seen teenager Greta Thunberg’s speech about climate change at the United Nations earlier this week.

However you felt about it, you could feel the passion in her voice. She credits part of strong activism to her Asperger’s diagnosis — something she calls her superpower.

“I don’t really care about social codes,” Thunberg said on CBS This Morning when asked about how her Asperger’s diagnosis helps her spread her message.

You’ve likely heard of Asperger’s syndrome, but may not know much about it. So, what is it? Good Question.

Jillian Nelson, a policy advocate with the Autism Society of Minnesota, was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 21.

“When I see Greta, I see a manifestation of everything I’ve worked for. Seeing a young person, and a girl at that, openly embracing their diagnosis,” Nelson said. “Acknowledging they’re accomplishing great things because of autism, not in spite of autism, makes my heart so happy.”

Asperger’s Syndrome isn’t actually an official diagnosis anymore. Since a 2013 update to diagnostic definition of the Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s is now considered part of the autism spectrum.

Greta Thunberg (credit: Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

“When Asperger’s was a diagnosis, one of the only criteria that distinguished this label from that of autism was a lack of delay in spoken language. Many professionals asserted that the label was inconsistently applied, which is why the Autism Spectrum label became more accepted,” said Dr. Barb Luksin, a psychologist with the Autism Society of Minnesota. “We now know that communication and intellectual capacity are not simple unitary qualifiers, and that those across the spectrum, like all people, can have strengths or weaknesses in either area.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 42 Minnesota 8-year-olds are on the autism spectrum.

Nelson says one of the biggest challenges of living with Asperger’s doesn’t have to do with the brain.

“It comes to do with how society reacts to us,” Nelson said. “We’re just like everyone else, we just experience the world differently. And if you give us the right supports, if you give us the right understanding, give us the right environment to thrive in, we can do incredible things.”

A guest on Fox News Monday described Thunberg as a “mentally-ill Swedish teenager.” The network later apologized.

“I have clients who have PHDs,” Luskin said. “Asperger’s or autism in general is never an excuse for not being able to achieve something. What I tell families is you may have to go about it differently.”

As for why some people have autism and other don’t?

Luskin says there’s a genetic component and it could have something to do with what happens before a baby is born. But, sometimes no one in the family has autism. She points out there are still many questions with not a lot of answers.

Heather Brown

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