Well... time for a novel, sorry
selective breeding is a funny thing.
I see Autism as something society has been actively working toward (without their knowledge) for hundreds (thousands) of generations. The first time somebody traded a hand crafted Atlatl (spear throwing weapon - the first sophisticated hunting gear) for a hunk of meat, we, as humans layed the foundation for Autism.
Specialization thrives in society, generalization does not. In general, in an organized society, if you can do one thing well, you tend to be more financially successful than if you can do many things adequatly. In fact, our modern world is the result of people radically specializing during the industrial revolution. If we were all hunter-gatherers, we would almost certainly not have (as many) Autistics, artists, inventors, accountants, scholars, mathematicians, cheer leaders, comedians, etc etc. If you put 10 wanderers who gather berries for a living together, you have berries for 10 people. But if you put an engineer, a farmer, a poet, and a hunter together, you get a society of people who can feed hundreds, keep them happy, protect them, and improve life. Meanwhile any of them would starve or be killed if they went at it alone. Radical specialization when spread out across generations, tends to become even more polarized, because although inter-task relationships are common, people still tend to gravitate toward similar. Statistical studies, and anecdotal evidence
have shown that concentrating our analytical/technical people, both in proximity and socially will result in more technically oriented children... that should not be a suprise to anyone.
Autism is a GIFT of specialization. It is the next step for a society of people that will be more specialized. There are other more specialized people being born every day, it is just harder to put a finger on other specializations, because Autism affects communication and relationships, and that is how non-autistics tend evaluate people. I am not trying to say every autistic is an engineer, or every autistic is a savant, but I am saying that a different perspective is critical to solving new or unsolved problems. Almost regardless of what the different perspective is, it can still bring vaulable insight, simply because it is different.
We are a society that acknowleges, values, and compensates analytical behavior when practiced with the precision and focus of an adult, but when a child analyzes the bottom of a hotwheel for 2 hours, it is called a disorder. This is the part that is confusing to me. When I was little I ran through volumes of encrypted data looking for patterns so I could translate it... This was "disturbing" and "unhealthy" activity. Now I run through volumes of insurance risk data and pull out patterns and make them pretty for people who cannot think in analytical/technical terms, but can interface with people very well. In a sense, the kids who were gossiping about me in the foreground, while I was writing shell scripts and now doing the exact same thing they always did... talking to people on an emotional level, while I am doing what I always did (explore the world on a technical/abstract level). And because of our unique specializations I am able to predict when people won't pay their mortgage, and they are able to put into action, investor reaction plans, training guidelines, etc etc. It is all the same as it ever was... I am still peering at the bottom of my hotwheel looking for manufacturer tool marks, and they are still discussing the way they feel, the difference is we are all adults, and we are all getting paid to do what we are compelled to do, and neither one is particularly valuable without the other.
In a way parenting, especially AP exposes Autism. The cultural revolution of the mid 1900s is another REALLY huge cause for the "Autism Awareness Epidemic." In 1946 Dr Benjamin Spock was really one of the first people to really THINK about parenting, and lay it all out there to kind of open up a dialog. Children were raised on tradition, rigid standards, and harsh punnishments untill very recently. In Western society children were actively punnished for expressing concern, doubt, frustration, and opposing viewpoints. Respect for elders, speak when spoken to, etc were really the standard by which most chilren were judged. Children (and all people really) were fairly isolated to local areas with small groups, of usually inter-related families (i.e. many common genetic traits among peers, thus "normalizing" certain quirks). The more free a child is to express his or her feelings/behaviors, and the more generalized the expectation of behavior becomes, the more "strange" behavior is likely to seem. The parenting doesn't change the child's neurology, but I believe it does change the parent's perceptions. Can you imagine if your child was not allowed to address adults, or raise his voice? How would you know if he had a speech delay? This is NOT unusual in other cultures.
Society can radically change the diagnostic criteria for subjective conditions. My daughter has Williams Syndrome, a genetic mutation that causes OVERLY social behavior. For Williams Syndrome, the diagnostic criteria in Japan is different than in the U.S. Because children are all "less social" there than here. In fact, a Japanese Williams Syndrome child will be about as social as a typical American child. Whereas an American WS child will give inapropriate hugs and engage strangers in direct conversation constantly, a Japanese WS child will tend to engage in conversations with acquaintences, and readily engage in conversation with his or her parents... Both push the boundaries of their respective cultures, and both have the same condition, but their behaviors are subjective to the culture.
In the U.S. we changed our culture, we changed our child rearing strategy, and we did not change our expectations. That is hardly realistic.
Just a few centuries ago Left-handedness was a disease, a neurological flaw that needed to be cured. Sinister means left-handed (Root word is literally "left" in Latin), that is how "not ok" being Left handed was... the word means evil/cunning/cruel today. See, in the culture of the day, the left hand was for dealing with dead and dirty things (like wiping your bum), and the right hand was for interfacing with people, eating, etc (hence why we shake with the right hand today, because shaking the left hand was gross). So somebody with neurology favoring the left hand was somebody with a disorder. It wasn't till 2007 (yes, last year) that they discovered evidence of genetic predisposition for left-handedness (Gene - LRRTM1). As insignificant as it seems to us, left-handedness was devastating to parents and left handed people were forced to hide it, live in shame, etc.