Jacinda Ardern says she has "deep admiration" for young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
The Prime Minister made the comment today in a post-Cabinet address after a reporter asked her if she had any thoughts on the backlash the 16-year-old has been receiving for her climate stance.
"I don't think that's fair," Ms Ardern said. "I do think we need climate advocates and it certainly couldn't be easy being thrust onto the world stage in that way. I have deep admiration for her."
Thunberg shot to worldwide fame for her determined stance on climate change, but has also had to defend herself against personal attacks, with some citing her Asperger syndrome as reason to question her credibility and her mental health.
Autism New Zealand chief executive Dane Dougan said Asperger's and autism are not mental illnesses, noting: "There is a link between autism and mental illness, but that's just the same as everybody else in the general public.
Some of the comments that we're hearing from some of the commentators are actually quite ignorant and quite offensive to our community," Mr Dougan told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning.
He said it was important to reiterate that the disorders lie on a spectrum.
"It presents differently in everybody and that's the challenge, I think, we face as an organisation and our community is to actually give people that sort of description of what autism is," he said. "But essentially it's just a different way of seeing the world."
He said Ms Thunberg's "special interest" in the topic of climate change would give her the focus to become knowledgeable on the issue and the science behind it, so "for people to come out and question her credibility because of her Asperger's is just wrong".