Steve Silberman, the author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, once observed that many people with autism “have been ignored and shunted to the margins of society, and condemned as weird, insane, or worse.” But the idea that they have valuable insights “not in spite of their autism but because of it is gaining ground as part of a global movement to honor neurodiversity.”
Last year, the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg stood on the steps of her country’s Parliament to urge radical action on climate change. Her unusually blunt, unsparing statements quickly attracted a mass following. She argues her Asperger’s was vital to that success—that if she wasn’t “so strange,” as she once described herself to an interviewer, she “would have been stuck in this social game everyone else seems so infatuated with,” instead of telling hard truths about how much people in rich countries will need to give up to significantly cut carbon emissions.
The Russian American journalist Masha Gessen goes further. A keen observer of politics in Russia, where she was a leading queer-rights activist, and a student of its history, she believes that neurodiversity may have been an under-appreciated factor among Soviet-era dissidents.