If Autism disappeared from the face of the Earth in the next generation, would that be a loss or a gain?
If redwood trees disappeared from the face of the Earth and were no more, would that be a loss or a gain?
There are lots of other kinds of trees. There are up over 130 other species of trees in the cypress family alone. But if the three trees in Sequoioideae subfamily disappeared off the face of the Earth it would be a supreme loss, regardless of how many other species of trees still remain. It is diversity and variety, the comparing and contrasting of different specimens, that emphasises the beauty of a population. Every kind of tree has a purpose in the biosphere and within its own home ecosystem. It is the same way for humanity.
Yes, autistic people are not trees. We are not a different species from non-autistic people. But our differences are a part of the great and dazzling variety of humankind, and our neurotype, the autistic neurotype, makes up some of the most beautiful patches in the quilt of human neurodiversity.
Being autistic is to be disabled. We have impairments. We have comorbid conditions. We have differences in the way our brains process information. There are hard things about being autistic in a non-autistic world. But just because our lives are more difficult, or our challenges are different than the challenges of non-autistics, that doesn’t mean that our lives aren’t worth living.
And while there have been many gifted autistic people that furthered the arts and sciences, there have been many more that didn’t, and that’s okay. Most non-autistic people will never compose a symphony, paint a masterpiece, solve an as-of-yet unsolved math program, or advance our understanding of the universe either.
A person’s worth doesn’t come from what they can do. A person’s worth is inherent and immutable, springing from the simple fact that they are a person, disabled or not.
And every person— autistic, allistic, disabled and non-disabled, neurodivergent and neurotypical— is an important part of the human family. Disability has always been, and will hopefully always be, a part of being human.
If Autism disappeared off the face of the planet, if the next generation was born without any new autistic minds, then yes. That would be a deep and profound loss. For humanity as a family, for the diversity of our species, and for each of us as individuals.