No matter how much I know about autism, I wouldn't know how to answer the question "what is autism?", simply. I don't believe there's a straight forward answer, it's quite complex. An autism therapist that thanked me for the awareness work I do worded it quite well: It's a difficult, but beautiful diagnosis. Neurodivergence has existed since the beginning of time. The strengths of autistic and neurotypical people have been working in tandem together to advance civilization. The three reasons there seems to be a surge of autism diagnosis are because of the following:
• Autism is a genetic feature the same way some people have green or blue eyes. As the world matures, autistic people have been thriving in larger numbers as their abilities are sought out (math, science, art, etc). Silicone Valley was rumoured to have an "autism epidemic", but what's actually happening is that autistic people are reproducing more easily because they are grouped with kindred minds. Therefore, their offsprings have a higher chance of being autistic.
• The definition of autism has broadened in the last few decades. Asperger's Syndrome used to be a separate diagnosis from classic autism, but now they have been grouped under one umbrella: autism spectrum disorder (I prefer to call it a difference).
• Autism diagnosis criteria have evolved to include female autistic traits, which weren't easily recognized before. Hans Asperger thought that only males could be autistic.
People who are on the milder end of the spectrum have either been absorbed into society as eccentrics, or have reciprocally rejected society and live outside of social acceptance. Autistic people further on the spectrum also have a unique intelligence and abilities, but society overlooks them.
"Never underestimate someone with Autism, because there could be Brilliance struggling to get out."
- Stuart Duncan
In order to accommodate all autistic people, society will have to do a complete 180. Worldwide autism acceptance would mean that people who behave, think, and talk differently will be supported. In a perfect world, the entire village of humanity will raise and protect these autistic children. Unfortunately, in the real world, many people are opportunists and take advantage of vulnerabilities. This means that people with stronger characters should rise to power (among those, are autistics).
"We are convinced, then, that autistic people have their place in the organism of the social community. They fulfil their role well, perhaps better than anyone else could, and we are talking of people who as children had the greatest difficulties and caused untold worries to their care-givers."
- Hans Asperger
Autism is often viewed as a burden, something to fear. You can't be normal and know how to resolve the world's burdens, without fear. It's the problem-child that will solve the world's problem, child.