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World leaders, commentators questioning Greta Thunberg's credibility because of Asperger's, 'just wrong' - Autism NZ

She's stolen the show on a global scale for her determined stance on climate change, but Greta Thunberg 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.

The comments about the Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate change activist from Sweden, have sparked a wider conversation around what others with the disorder endure.

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 Greta 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".

"If someone with autism or an autistic adult or an autistic child has a real interest in a particular area, they can become solely focused on that, so that would create then a really good understanding in that particular area, so when they speak out, we should be able to listen to them and have a pretty good understanding of what's going on in that particular area."

Mr Dougan said while the community has been receiving less criticism from the wider public over the years, the comments aimed at Thunberg being 'mentally ill' or an "emotional girl" is "just wrong" and "just quite upsetting and hurting for our community".

"I think it's changing, I think it's getting better. I don’t think we've seen as many of these comments now, but to hear those comments still coming, particularly from world leaders, and particularly from those people of influence, is really quite upsetting."

Mr Dougan said, however, that the comments aimed at Greta have brought Asperger's and autism into the public conversation.

"I think we've seen a far better understanding in the community now of autism and Asperger's," he said. "There's still a long way to go, and these type of stories and these type of amazing young people who are inspiring so many other people around the world can make a really positive difference in the community in general, but also for our specific autistic community, so I think it really is a positive thing."

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Dane Dougan joined TVNZ1’s Breakfast to discuss the teenage climate change activist. Source: Breakfast