In the management book The Goal, Eliyahu Goldratt gives the example of a decision to make machining centers in a factory more efficient by increasing the amount of metal taken off with each pass of the cutting tool. Instead of shaving a chip one millimeter thick, the tool took off three millimeters. This made the machining of the parts a much speedier process and reduced the cost of operating the machining centers. Increasing the amount of metal taken off on each pass made the parts brittle, however, which necessitated heat-treating. The increased load on the furnaces gave rise to a serious bottleneck in heat-treating and made the plant significantly less productive and less profitable.
A similarly shortsighted thought process seems to be involved in today's clamor to cure or prevent autism and other developmental differences. Autistic children need more and/or different resources in the educational system, the reasoning goes. Therefore, our schools would be much more efficient if they did not have to educate autistic children or provide related services such as speech therapy. Proponents of this view assume that reducing the cost of education by preventing the existence of autistic children would translate into a more profitable economy.
This is a classic example of the suboptimization fallacy. Is a standardized, low-cost school system the ultimate goal of human society? Most people wouldn't think so. If a successful economy is the goal, then, which would be analogous to a company's ultimate goal of making a profit (leaving aside issues of spiritual and moral growth), how do we get there? We live in a highly complex society with an advanced, technologically dependent economy that requires a great variety of skills in its workers. Therefore, the most efficient educational system, from the standpoint of increasing the productivity of the modern economy as a whole, is one that produces workers who are diverse enough to give employers the flexibility to fill a variety of specialized niches.
In many other contexts, such as the hiring of workers with different cultural backgrounds, employers recognize that more diversity in today's global workplace increases productivity and profit. It's about time more people became aware that this is also true of diversity in learning styles, communication, and cognitive abilities.