The Autism Spectrum and the Great Glass Elevator
To quote a crotchety Texas judge by the name of Tom Gray: "There are so many problems (with this opinion) that I do not know where to begin; so I will start where I first knew there was a problem and proceed with a stream of consciousness as new problems emerged."
I'll start with a question: Did you ever try to follow a rainbow, when you were a child, to find out if it really had a pot of gold at the end? You ran across the wet grass, and when you reached the place where you thought the end of the rainbow ought to be, all you could see was a faint shimmer of color in the tiny drops of water at the tips of the grass blades. In the same way, the autism spectrum contains all the bright colors and vibrant hues of our human existence, but it has no end, no clear line of demarcation from the rest of the world.
All children develop new skills and learn more about their social environment as they grow older. (Adults also continue to learn, if they maintain an open mind and a willingness to explore new viewpoints and experiences.) This doesn't make a child or adult less autistic, just better educated and more mature.
And contrary to the another-brick-in-the-wall mindset of our cookie cutter educational system, we don't all have to learn exactly the same things and develop in exactly the same way. Just because a child does not begin speaking at the age listed on a developmental chart, it doesn't mean that he or she will never be able to communicate, and it has no relevance whatsoever to other abilities or to intelligence in general.
The same can be said of harmless behavioral differences such as rocking and hand-flapping. They have no bearing on competence or intelligence, and the only reason why they are seen as undesirable is social prejudice. When an autistic adult finds a job or gets married, that doesn't mean he is any higher on the autism spectrum; rather, it means those around him are higher on the tolerance spectrum.
One more stream-of-consciousness problem: When hierarchical language such as "moving up" is used in connection with autism, it has a patronizing air of social superiority to it, similar to the attitude of wealthy white folks who praise a successful non-white person for becoming educated and moving up out of the ghetto. Yes, education and financial success and social integration are all good things—but the ghetto never should have existed in the first place.
The autistic spectrum is not linear, not an elevator, no more of a constraint than any other way of being. It is a rich and complex part of the bright, beautiful, multidimensional kaleidoscope of human diversity.