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Greta Thunberg and Susan Boyle: Showcasing Autistic Talent and Ambition in the Media

The avatar for ASDNext blogger Ziggie has his name and a large stylized letter Z.

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April is a month that is dedicated to raising awareness regarding Autism Spectrum Disorder. I regard it as a month of reflection and repose to think about my diagnosis and the broader scope of how individuals with ASD interact with the world at large. One facet of this interaction is media because it helps shape our viewpoints on a variety of subjects. Self-Esteem, in particular, is something built upon, and if we see others who have a similar experience as we do, it makes it easier to feel better about ourselves. This month I would like to utilize my blog post to talk about Greta Thunberg and Susan Boyle. One is a young climate activist from Sweden who is raising awareness about climate change and its impact on the world. The other is a woman who rose to fame on the show America’s Got Talent and received her ASD diagnosis later in life. 

Before I talk about either of these women, it’s vital to understand that being autistic and having a voice in the media was rare in the past. We would often hear from the parents of autistic children but never those kids (especially from adults with ASD). I don’t believe that you can effectively raise awareness about any subject matter if the individual impacted by the condition or circumstance doesn’t have a voice in that discussion. For example, I live in an area with one of the most extensive and most vast libraries in my city, and finding books on autism written by those on the spectrum is a rarity. I recently noticed a slight change in authorship in representation. While change can be slow, it is occurring, and that’s a fantastic thing. 

Greta Thunberg started her activism with small steps. First, she thought about ways her family could reduce their carbon footprint. In August of 2018, at the age of 15, she organized demonstrations outside of the Swedish parliament to call for more significant action to be taken on climate change. Together with other students across the country, Thunberg staged walk-outs titled “Friday’s For Future.” In total, over a million students joined that demonstration, elevating the crisis of climate change and showcasing regardless of youth, anyone can fight for a cause. Seeing a young autistic woman speak to the United Nations, I can only imagine how many other girls with ASD can look up to her and see their power as well. 

Susan Boyle is notable for her viral debut on America’s Got Talent. As a more mature woman, she was underestimated when she walked out on that stage until she started singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables, completely stunning the judges with her stage presence and vocal range. Even though Boyle did not win America’s Got Talent, she sold millions of records and went on tours. Susan’s experience with ASD started with being misdiagnosed at birth as being brain-damaged, a diagnosis that impacted her self-worth because she didn’t believe that’s what it was. Getting the ASD diagnosis in her 50’s finally gave her peace of mind in understanding herself. 

What both of these women have in common is the ability to touch hearts and minds. It allows society to see autistic women thriving, and that effect on young persons with ASD is something that can’t be understated. Today we can watch shows of autistic characters that are multi-faceted

and that normalizes our condition. Is the media depiction of autism perfect? Not at all. However, I am encouraged by where we’re headed and what other heights those with ASD can reach!


Ziggy is a Certified Peer Specialist in PA and currently resides in Pittsburgh. He is a member of the Let’s Act committee, a group of peers devoted to raising awareness about mental health care. In his downtime, he enjoys reading novels and watching nature documentaries.

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