Check out this 1966 Time Magazine article on homosexuality. Historical comparisons are tricky, but are we roughly at that stage?
While this may seem counterintuitive given the extent of today's mass hysteria about autism (as far as I know, Congress never passed a Combating Homosexuality Act), I'm inclined to think that the autistic community is significantly closer to achieving equal rights than the gay community was in the 1960s. In both cases, widespread prejudice and discrimination resulted from psychiatric labeling of those belonging to the group as mentally disordered sufferers. Unlike autistics, however, gays also had to deal with (and are still dealing with) the huge historical burden of having been condemned for millennia in the Judeo-Christian tradition as abominable evildoers. As the 1966 article accurately states, "the view that homosexuality should be treated not as a vice but as a disease was considered progressive." There is no comparable religious antipathy toward the autistic population; although we occasionally see stories about clergy who describe autistic children as soulless or who attempt to exorcise demons from them, such ignorant foolishness is not based in religious tradition.
Indeed, most people had never even heard of autism until very recently, when the diagnostic criteria were substantially broadened and the number of people identified as autistic increased accordingly. Although it may seem as if we're living in a deeply prejudiced society that hates autistics, I think that what we've seen over the past few years has been an artificially created media bubble that can be attributed in large part to Bob Wright's abuse of his former position at NBC to spread his bigoted views, as well as the marketing efforts of quack-cure opportunists who have profited from fear and stereotypes. And like fads in general, this bubble can—and will—deflate very quickly when the public has had enough of it.
What does this mean in practical terms? It means that we want to position ourselves to pick up whatever is left over when the autism awareness craze goes the way of disco and pet rocks. More specifically, we need to get control over funds allocated for awareness purposes and use that money to debunk stereotypes and to promote understanding and acceptance. We need to make sure that useful research in education, communication, and other worthwhile areas will continue. We need to take effective action to put an end to employment discrimination.
And here's what the end of autism awareness is not going to mean. If we can get autism taken out of the DSM, in much the same way that the gay activists succeeded in getting homosexuality removed, that doesn't mean we can all go back to enjoying the perks of being part of normal society. Some of us never were included in that privileged caste, for various reasons; and even those of us who once were seen as normal have a moral obligation, I believe, to stand in solidarity with those who have endured a lifetime of oppression. As the concept of neurodiversity becomes more widely accepted, we can and must take advantage of this opportunity to transform our society by ending—once and for all—the unconscionable division of the human species into the normal and the defective.