What Our Culture Teaches
Culture plays a very powerful role in how we define ourselves and our goals as we go through life. When we discuss whether or not there ought to be a cure for autism, this question itself arises from the constraints of our culture. That is to say, such a discussion could exist only in a society that has first defined a certain set of traits as comprising "autism" and has then placed this category of "autism" under the broader category of medical disorders.
Just a few generations ago, nobody was discussing whether autism ought to be cured because the concept of a medical disorder called "autism" did not exist. People who had traits that modern society would call "autistic" were taught to define their ways of interacting with the world in different terms. There were other groups of people who were categorized as mentally disordered on the basis of the cultural prejudices then existing. For example, women who sought equal rights were likely to be labeled as delusional and suffering from hysteria. Homosexuality was officially defined as a psychiatric disorder, and many gays went into therapy (voluntarily or otherwise) with the goal of curing them and making them socially acceptable.
The concept of cure fits into the broader expectation that we must always strive to improve ourselves. Modern society has taken industry's objective of continuous improvement and has applied it to the human body and mind, seeking to develop an efficient system for producing a new and improved population according to the experts' specifications. In a relatively short time, this cultural paradigm has largely replaced the old ways of humbly following ancient traditions and believing that God or the pagan gods intended us to be as we are.
For better or worse, this is the culture we live in now, and I'm certainly not arguing that we should all go back to living in traditional villages. The modern quest to improve ourselves and our children has brought about many good things, including widespread literacy, public sanitation, environmental protection, a decrease in vaccine-preventable diseases, and a health care system that (while still primitive in many ways) has played a major role in increasing the average human lifespan significantly.
Indeed, it is now within the realm of possibility that longevity research may enable people to live hundreds or even thousands of years, with a wide variety of artificial body parts and enhancements. It's a fascinating topic to contemplate; and while I haven't taken up transhumanism as a political cause or a personal philosophy, I see this as the direction in which our society is moving, and I believe it is imperative that we address the ethical issues associated with a culture of continuous improvement of the self.
The most vital issue, as I see it, is this: Who gets to decide what an improvement is? In this rapidly approaching future, will we respect the right of individuals to choose their own preferred ways of configuring their bodies and their brains, creating a vibrant kaleidoscope of human diversity as we evolve in ways as yet unimagined? Or are we heading toward a sci-fi nightmare where, in addition to having cosmetic procedures such as breast implants for the sake of popularity, each of us will be expected (or required) to get implants for our brains so that we can conform to a narrow range of socially acceptable thought patterns?