3. Asperger Syndrome

What is Asperger syndrome?

Asperger syndrome (AS; otherwise known as Asperger’s) is a formerly recognized form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Though diagnoses of Asperger’s syndrome are no longer common, and instead ASD is seen as encompassing a larger set of symptoms, some people who found community in a past Asperger’s diagnosis use that name and do not consider it outdated. Greta still identifies with her Asperger’s diagnosis and has frequently mentioned it as a way for people to understand her thought and behavioral processes. 


What is the difference between Asperger’s and autism?

When they were recognized as separate, the main distinctions between Asperger’s and autism were that people with Asperger’s showed no signs of intellectual disability, and they had fewer visible self-soothing symptoms such as verbal echoes and bodily rocking. Autistic people and people with Asperger’s tend to have special interests, which are items or concepts that someone studies or observes with intense or passionate interest. Special interests can range from machinery to coding to literature and art history.


Women with autism

Historically, women and girls have been underdiagnosed with autism. Some scholars speculate that this is due to gender bias in the definition of symptoms. Many girls with autism display symptoms less obviously or become better at masking sensory overload and meltdowns from an earlier age, which leads to their symptoms being attributed to other issues besides autism. Below is a video in which autistic women explain their experience with the diagnosis and how they view their identities as autistic women. Make sure to watch from 0:47 to 2:57, but watch as much of the video as you like.




How has Asperger’s affected Greta’s activism?

Greta’s passion about the climate crisis led to her experiencing depression and an eating disorder before she started school striking for the climate. The intensity of her passion about the climate and the living earth made her regard high-consumption habits around her as particularly awful, and she struggled to cope with that for some time. Due to her Asperger’s diagnosis, she receives criticism from some opponents who try to discredit her because of her differences, but she instead views Asperger’s as a strength that gave her the drive to start a global movement. She has even called Asperger’s her “superpower.”


Discussion questions:

Discuss these with a partner or small group. You can use the graphic organizer to take notes.


  1. What kinds of previous perceptions did you have about Asperger’s? Did this lesson change your perspective? How so?


2. On August 31, 2019, Greta spoke about her Asperger’s on Twitter:

“When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!


I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And – given the right circumstances- being different is a superpower.


I’m not public about my diagnosis to “hide” behind it, but because I know many ignorant people still see it as an “illness”, or something negative. And believe me, my diagnosis has limited me before.


Before I started school striking I had no energy, no friends and I didn’t speak to anyone. I just sat alone at home, with an eating disorder.


All of that is gone now, since I have found a meaning, in a world that sometimes seems shallow and meaningless to so many people.”

What do you notice about how Greta speaks about her Asperger’s? How do her sentiments compare to those of the women in the video?


Next lesson: Timeline