And, as happens when I have a chance to mull questions and let them simmer in the back of my mind, I start to play with hypotheticals.
Although I agree with those who point out that changes in diagnostic criteria and awareness of the whole autism spectrum make it a bit rash to proclaim that there is an "epidemic," I do wonder if we are also seeing an evolutionary shift (or branch or something else) that is an effect of our growing use of technology. For people who find social interaction difficult to impossible, the internet provides a new way to present oneself; the increasing importance of technology means that those who develop it are more readily accepted and granted greater status. Perhaps, and I have no hard evidence to back this up in any way whatsoever, a larger number of people on the high functioning end of the spectrum are entering relationships and reproducing, instead of simply being the eccentric bachelor who spends all his time with his work.
Another direction my thoughts go, a very personal one, is that perhaps the autistic brain is not "wrong" or "broken," but "different." As I have gotten older, I have been able to recognize that my mind works differently than others'. When given a problem or a project, I can quickly see the most straight-forward path to the goal. (And am then frustrated with those who can't see or insist on taking detours that are obviously counterproductive.) For vacations, it is my job to pack the bags and then the trunk since I can fit more into a space than Trillian can; again, this is just something I immediately see. Certainly a variety in the way that minds work adds a richness to the human experience, drives innovation and progress, creates solutions that might otherwise be lost. Perhaps there is a need fulfilled by the workings of the autistic mind, and we would benefit from opening up to this.
I am not the only person musing on these topics, and many have done more to bolster these ideas with well-considered logic. The most recent example: this article from Wired. It articulates so well the idea of "different," not "broken." I especially find interesting the analysis of performances on intelligence tests and the idea that
you wouldn't give a blind person a test heavily dependent on vision and interpret their poor score as an accurate measure of intelligence.But that's really what happens when the intelligence of a person with autism is measured by a test that requires verbal interaction, usually with a stranger.
So now I have more to play with, thoughts I can push further now that someone else has teased out some of the threads.