The writer Madeleine Ryan, who is autistic, says more people need to better understand autism. Picture: Supplied/Hector MacKenzie
The writer Madeleine Ryan, who is autistic, says more people need to better understand autism. Picture: Supplied/Hector MacKenzie

‘Autistic people are not mentally ill. We are human’

Greta Thunberg is not mentally ill, because autism is not a mental illness.

I am autistic, and autism defines how I perceive the world. It shapes how I think, and how I communicate. It's how my brain is wired.

It is not something that can be cured. It is not something that will inevitably pass. Please vanquish this idea from your mind.

Send the idea of autism as a sign of someone being sick, or defunct back to the place where homosexuality was listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and where people insisted that those who were different or disturbed.

Autistic people, like anyone else, may experience anxiety or depression. We may also live with all kinds of colourful co-morbids, such as: ADHD, OCD, Tourettes, developmental co-ordination disorder, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, sensory issues, vitamin deficiencies, irritable bowels and sleeping problems.

However, this does not make us mentally ill - this makes us human.

Nevertheless, the world is a bit infatuated with diagnostics right now and everything is getting one. Alternating moods, varying physical ability and unique neurological predispositions are all getting stamped with fancy and intimidating names, and are being treated as if they were problems in need of being fixed.

Yet, in many instances, they are not. They are gifts to the world.

Not everything that is difficult, unusual, or striking, is damaged. In fact, most of the time, what's different is not damaged at all. It's just different.

In the case of someone like Greta Thunberg, it's easy to see how autism is advantageous, and cataclysmic. It is synonymous with having a fresh perspective and a different way of relating to things, which is valuable in a world that is so often defined by misguided and desensitised 'groupthink'.

MORE FROM MADELEINE RYAN: I'm Autistic. That doesn't mean I need to be 'cured'

The autistic are here to shake things up and to inject everyone's brains with something new and dynamic.

We are not here to make others more comfortable. Sorry, not sorry.

We may seem rude, obsessive, or moody. We may move quickly, or very, very slowly. We are not here to be beaten down and squashed into ways of thinking, learning, and communicating that other people feel less threatened by. We're here to help the human race evolve.

We see things that others miss. We feel things they didn't realise they felt. And we see through lies and deceptions.

The writer Madeleine Ryan. Picture: Supplied/Hector MacKenzie
The writer Madeleine Ryan. Picture: Supplied/Hector MacKenzie

However, if we spend our lives believing that there's something wrong with us, what we have to offer is going to go to waste. And if we continue to be labelled as mentally ill, crazy, or weird, then the infinite number of solutions, strategies, passions, protests, and contributions that we could be making to the world are going to slip into a void along with all of the other lost hopes, dreams, and visions, that every other group of people who have been persecuted, or badly treated by society, have had.

For the record, autism is a spectrum - not a scale. There's a strong desire to slot us into categories and levels that can be easily numbered and labelled.

However, we were not programmed in this way.

MORE FROM MADELEINE RYAN: I'm autistic, here's how to be friends with me

A so-called 'highly functioning' autistic person can simply perform the job of pleasing others, and doing things the way they'd like them to be done, better. And a so-called 'low functioning' autistic person doesn't fit with what most people see as 'normal'.

I read somewhere that there are 250 ways to wash a dish. So there must be an infinite number of ways to communicate, to feel, to learn, to grow and to inspire others.

Greta Thunberg is a testament to this. She is someone who has a brain, and she is using it in powerful, and galvanising ways. And anyone who refuses to see and accept this is probably missing something, and in need of some help. Not the other way around.

Madeleine Ryan is an Australian writer.