<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=412613405606678&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

    Greta Thunberg and her Superpower

    Topics: Global Autism Awareness, Elementary (4-12), Teen (13-17), Young Adult (18-21), Adult (22+)

    Exploring the Positive Side of Autism and Building on these Strengths to Help Your Child Thrive

    Let’s step into the shoes of a parent who has been informed her child is diagnosed with autism. All kinds of thoughts would race through her mind. She will wonder if her child can assimilate into the larger society and interact with peers her age. She will wonder if her child can be independent. She will feel confused. If you notice a parent going through these emotions, you can do your part by encouraging her to look at this diagnosis from a positive perspective. 

    Children diagnosed with autism will face challenges, but this does not mean they should be discouraged from excelling and using their strengths. They can still be destined for great things. Children with autism have a range of strengths and abilities which can push them to achieve their goals and aspirations. While each child is unique, autistic children (and adults) often have a number of specific strengths: They have a tendency to show grit and have a strong work ethic. Even in the face of challenges, they persevere to complete their task. They are detail-oriented. And, they can adopt unconventional solutions that could push projects to greater heights 

    One fine example of such a person is Greta Thunberg - a climate campaigner who has been named Time Magazine Person of the Year for 2019. She has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice. At the tender age of 16, she has addressed world leaders at the U.N. Climate Action Summit for their lack of urgency in addressing global warming. She has rallied 4 million youths in over 100 countries to join the global climate strike in 2019, making it the largest climate demonstration in human history. 

    49618310531_d9de506a5f_bPhoto credit: European Parliament

    In her recent speech at the Youth4Climate summit, she challenged world leaders and spoke about the need for them to walk their talk and achieve the environmental goals they have set for their nations. Her ‘30 years of blah, blah, blah’ speech at the summit rocked the world, with many calling her “brave” and “brilliant.” It is hard to tell she has autism from her presentations and booming confidence, but she does, and she likens it to a superpower - a stance that has earned her the admiration and respect of those with and without autism. 

    Greta Thunberg credits her autism for her achievements and the environmental impact she has made on the world. She says having autism has helped her stay committed to her fight for a greener world despite receiving threats and attacks on her identity by world leaders, including a reference as a “mentally ill Swedish child.” So, what is it about autism that spurred her on? 

    Positive Characteristics of Children with Autism

    1. They are focused and have a “never say no” attitude.

    Greta Thunberg is rooted in her mission of urging action on climate change. When she was 15, she protested outside the Swedish Parliament. Today, she continues to stand tall on the podium and speak to world leaders who have ridiculed her. Her attitude is demonstrated in one of her quotes:

    “You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up is never an option.” 

    This trait of hers is common among children with autism. Children with autism are conscientious and persistent. They channel their passion into energy by researching and gathering information that relates to their interest, which is why you hardly ever see them making small talk. They prefer to talk to like-minded individuals who can further their knowledge. 

    How you can help: To help them thrive, you can begin by finding out their strengths and interests. They may not be keen on climate action; they may be interested in STEM-related subjects or music. After finding out what they enjoy, you can expand their interests. You can use digital resources and incorporate their interests into academic subjects to foster their learning. Because they are determined individuals, the only thing they need is an optimal environment with the resources and scaffolding to flourish.

    2. They are honest and do not retaliate against snide remarks

    Greta Thunberg’s rise to fame and age made her a target for critics. People have directed verbal attacks at her on the internet and physically. Yet, she maintains her composure and refuses to make critical comments about those who have hurt her. This shows she does not give in to bullies and will not mould herself into someone based on the dictated social norms or peer pressure. 

    33744056508_906db7d258_bPhoto credit: European Parliament

    Others’ judgments do not strongly affect children with autism because they sometimes have difficulty understanding others’ non-verbal cues and underlying intentions and because they tend to be more non-judgemental of others. These traits, coupled with their power to “hyper-focus” makes them likely to succeed in their goals. Isn’t this an impressive skill to have? If everyone accepted others’ differences, how do you think the world would be? 

    How you can help: Parents and teachers can contribute by communicating acceptance. We need to tell children they are loved for who they are. Another strategy is creating environments for success. The environment should be free of distractions and sensory elements that may cause them distress. While it is natural to be frustrated if they make mistakes, please refrain from degrading language that may hurt them. It weakens their self-esteem and is unlikely to change behavior. 

    3. They are problem-solvers. 

    Why do people listen to Greta Thunberg? It is because she has won people’s hearts with her creativity and passion for climate action. In her less than 500-word speeches, she does more than evoke powerful emotions in her listeners. She thinks out-of-the-box and ensures her speeches tell audiences what they need to know - a problem-solving skill, as she has to ensure she isn’t repetitive or patronising.  

    Her ability to problem solve shows when she is answering leaders’ comments. Her creative and witty responses show others she can stand up for herself and her cause. 

    How you can help: You can cultivate this characteristic in children with autism by exposing them to challenging scenarios and having them come up with solutions. Learning to play chess is also a great way because it requires players to use critical and perspective thinking to identify the opponent’s intentions. Teaching them coding can also be another wonderful solution for children interested in technology. If they become skilled at it, they could even turn it into a career. You can also expose yourself to famous people with autism, such as Greta Thunberg, Temple Grandin, Nikola Tesla and Satoshi Tajiri (the mastermind behind Pokémon of course! 

    We often describe autism in terms of deficits. We find it hard to celebrate the gains and mull over what the child cannot do. This shapes our opinion of children with autism, and it is time we change our thinking. 

    As Greta Thunberg said, “Together and united, we are unstoppable.” If we want to make a difference, we need to view children as capable individuals with a variety of intelligences. It doesn’t matter if it is musical intelligence or logical-mathematical intelligence; it all boils down to how we empower them and how we view their achievements. 

    What strengths does your child or student with autism have? Let us know!

    Isabelle Eng

    Written by Isabelle Eng

    Isabelle Eng is a lecturer at the National Institute of Early Childhood Development, an institution in Singapore that provides training to pre- and in-service teachers. She is passionate about teachers' professional development and aims to equip teachers with practical knowledge, resilience, and grit. Isabelle believes teachers' technical knowledge and character traits play a crucial role in impacting students' quality of education. Isabelle holds a Master's Degree of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she specialized in Language and Literacy.