|Greta Thunberg by Anders Hellberg | Wikimedia Commons
[image: Greta Thunberg, a white Swedish teen with long light brown plaits, standing
outside a building holding a large hand-painted sign reading,
“Skolstrejk för klimatet,” or, “school strike for climate”.]
All of the people who think Greta Thunberg is a “mouthpiece” or “being exploited” have SO OBVIOUSLY never tried to get between a teenaged autistic and a special interest of theirs… much less a special interest involving the well-being of others.#ActuallyAutistic
— Marie Porter 🇨🇦 (@OverlordMarie) September 17, 2019
Recently, there has been a lot of chatter on #ActuallyAutistic Twitter about the use of the term “super power” with regards to autism, and specifically by Greta Thunberg, who recently said, “Being different is a super power.” As usual, I have some thoughts.
First off, I want to acknowledge that not every autistic is going to see their own autism as a super power. The thing about autism being a spectrum is that how it manifests in us varies wildly from person to person.
I think of a scene in X-Men: The Last Stand—a great autism analogy movie, by the way—in which the character Storm declares about being a mutant, “There’s nothing to cure.” Beast responds with a comment to the effect of how easy that is for her to say, as she’s not shedding blue hair. I think that scene is very relevant to the whole idea of super powers versus not. It’s part of why that movie speaks to me so much, as an autistic analogy.
|Image from X-Men: The Last Stand. Source: CBR.com
[image: The X-Men character Beast, a blue furry mutant wearing a suit,
shaking hands with Professor X, a white bald man who uses a wheelchair,
Storm, a Black woman with choppy straight silver hair, looks on and smiles.]
In the same vein—and in that same movie—there’s another plot line about how the character Rogue struggles with her more isolating power/difference, in deciding whether or not to take a cure.
We autistics are all different, and those differences can be seen as more positive or more negative, depending on what they are, what we do with them, and how we perceive ourselves (and others) as a result. Some of us autistics—like Storm—are able to blend in better, and can benefit from that. Others may not blend in as well—much as Hank McCoy (Beast) will always stand out—or deal with unpleasant effects from their particular blend of autistic traits.
Also, as much as many of us are horrified at the search for a “cure” for who we are, there are many autistics out there whose “super power” makes them feel more like Rogue—and, as a result, wish there was a cure. Although, as Emily Paige Ballou has noted,
“Usually when I talk to these people, I have to question whether it’s the difficulties of autism itself that makes them feel this way, or years and years of being mistreated for being autistic, which can be a very difficult distinction to make when you have no standard for comparison.”
Complicating the matter of this super power narrative are the Aspie supremacists. I do see how their “we’re superior to everyone” narrative can make the whole “I see my autism as a super power” idea, well, kind of sticky. This is partially due to the fact that having a “super power” doesn’t necessarily make someone “superior to everyone” on the whole, and partially due to how Aspie supremacists distance themselves from autistics with intellectual disabilities. Treating certain groups of autistics as somehow being different or lesser than when it comes to their supremacy narrative is pretty ridiculous, given that autism is defined by the commonalities between us. I just don’t think that non-supremacist auties should be denied looking at their own autism as a super power on account of those people.
Personally, I’m one who does look at my own autism as a super power… and I think it fits in nicely with traditional views of super powers. I have heightened senses, and certain abilities that go with them. I wasn’t born knowing how to properly utilize my abilities, however… and no one around me was really in a position to guide me on that, as I was an anomaly in those respects. I had to learn, and things were bumpy along the way, not unlike those movie montages of superheroes learning to fly, or harness whatever other power they may have.
Just, you know, my experience was far less dramatic than accidentally setting buildings on fire with one’s eyes!
Then, there’s the whole matter of those with super powers having an Achilles’ Heel, or weakness. In super hero lore, such things are written in for a sense of balance, of course… but we tend to have a bit of balance there as well.
For me, yes, I can taste and smell things others can’t, understand how things are put together by looking at them, replicate things by taste or view, but certain high-pitched noises flat-out disable me. It’s my Kryptonite!
Growing up autistic is hard. Being an adult autistic these days, just constantly surrounded by those who hate and dehumanize us, is also hard. If an autistic person looks at their autism as a super power, more… power to them—for them, it is, and I don’t think it’s great practice to deny anyone that view. Every day, we’re surrounded by the message that we’re broken, lesser-than, etc. Let us—those of us who see the positives, who’ve learned to benefit from them, etc.—have this one!
Additionally, people need to realize that there is a difference between “super power” and “super hero.” I think that a lot of the problems people have with the idea of autism as a super power is the idea that it elevates the autistic person above everyone else, rather than the super power being about this one particular aspect of them that is special.
Again, much as is seen in the X-Men universe, there are a lot of people with super powers who are not super heroes. Or even villains, for that matter—they’re just people with a special ability. I see a definite parallel in the real world.
Personally, I suspect many (Most? All?) people have something about them that others would consider a super power. I have a friend who went to work with an ear infection. I was so in awe of her ability to function at all, never mind actually being able to drive to work and work! I certainly can’t do that. Is she a super hero? Not really… but in my world, her ability is definitely a super power.
For the record, though… Greta absolutely is a super hero, at this point. Good thing, as the world right now needs more super heroes, and it’s so nice to see a young autistic woman in that position!
I just want to say that any autistic seeing their own autism as a super power shouldn’t be seen as taking anything away from—or somehow lessening—those who don’t see the same, for themselves. It’s a spectrum, and—super power or not—we all have worth.