The Essential Features
There's a page on the Autism Speaks website that purports to illustrate this alleged lack of intellectual capacity with a photograph of a 4-year-old boy at the Lincoln Memorial, standing underneath the engraved words of the Gettysburg Address and looking at cracks in the wall. The boy's father writes that he "has already taught himself to read and to write and is more than capable of reading the speech" but instead finds the cracks in the wall more interesting. Supposedly, this little boy's lack of interest in the words of the speech shows the mental challenges that autistic children face.
This left me pondering the question: What sort of expectations would a parent ordinarily have for a non-autistic preschooler on a visit to the Lincoln Memorial? Even if a young novice reader, of any neurology, could identify the words in the Gettysburg Address, he wouldn't have nearly enough life experience to grasp their historical context or their political significance. Is it any wonder that he might prefer to look at a crack in the wall, or a bug crawling across the crack, or other such objects of interest to small boys?
If Autism Speaks can show me a 4-year-old boy—anywhere—who has a deep and abiding appreciation for the profound wisdom of the Gettysburg Address, I'll eat Bob Wright's hat with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on top.
And what's more, any 4-year-old who is capable of teaching himself to read has a pretty doggone good ability, compared to other children of his age, to identify the essential features of all those little squiggly marks on the paper.
If that young boy had been born in another generation, free of today's "autism awareness" hysteria, his father would no doubt be bragging about his son's intellectual gifts, rather than bemoaning his lack of interest in the Gettysburg Address as proof of a devastating mental impairment.
I really have to wonder what Autism Speaks and its supporters are thinking. To me, it looks like they're frequently failing to see the essential features of what is required.