Hypocrisy and Hope
Although I agree with Ettina's main point that the value of a human being shouldn't be viewed as conditional on certain types of accomplishments, I don't believe that this sort of value judgment is a natural or necessary consequence of discussing autistic strengths. Many groups regularly celebrate their role models and the potential of their young people, such as in Black History Month and Women's History Month. (I'll have more to say about that in my next post.)
Yes, it would be totally obnoxious and hypocritical if an aspie were to say to a parent of a nonverbal child, "Gee, it's too bad your kid isn't a brilliant aspie like Bill Gates or me, but someday he could be high functioning autistic, rather than useless like he is now." And yes, there are some puffed-up snobs who have that sort of attitude, such as Temple Grandin, for instance. Whenever I feel like telling jerks to kiss my autistic ass, anyone who thinks like that can go straight to the head of the line.
Still, just because we have a few jerks in our midst, that's not a reason to deprive autistic kids of inspirational role models and encouragement. I remember reading about the lives of Einstein, Archimedes, and Marie Curie when I was a child. At that time, I didn't know there was a group of people labeled "autistic," but I still got the message that people with minds like these great scientists, who had strong interests and persevered until they accomplished their goals, were worthy of respect and admiration.
To make myself completely clear, when I wrote the previous sentence, I was not suggesting that "low functioning autistics" weren't worthy of respect. I don't believe there's any such thing as "low functioning autistics." I also don't believe "high functioning autistics" exist. I don't believe that a child becomes a different sort of autistic by virtue of developing speech, learning to use the toilet, or whatever criteria one may prefer. (See Jannalou's post about how meaningless such distinctions are.) I don't believe there's such a thing as "normal," either. All of these categories are social constructs. We need to recognize them for what they are, and we need to free our minds.
Why shouldn't a parent of an autistic child be encouraged to hope that he or she will have a successful adult life? Wouldn't a parent of any other child have such hopes? Success does not require becoming "normal," or becoming "high functioning," or achieving any particular level of education, or having a high-status career. The most important ingredients that go into a successful life, in my view, are having meaningful goals and values, being empowered to act in accordance with them, and contributing something of value (though not necessarily a measurable monetary value) to society. Whether or not a person has a disability label shouldn't even enter into that equation.
Love and acceptance and respect are all very important in life, no doubt about that, but autistic children (and children in general) also need and deserve parents who hope for success—who expect them to set meaningful goals for themselves, who give them genuine encouragement, and who believe in their ability to accomplish their goals.