The autistic rights movement and severely disabled autistic people -- some history
It is often said, by people leery of the neurodiversity paradigm, that autistic rights activists have very little in common with the most severely disables autistic people.
I agree that the majority of people identified as autistic today (including myself) have very little in common with the most severely disables autistic people.
But this was not always the case.
In the earliest days of the autistic rights movement, around 1990, "Asperger's syndrome" was only beginning to be recognized as a thing. And "autism" diagnoses were reserved for severely disabled children.
Hence, most of the leading figures of the early autistic rights movement were NOT Aspies, but instead were people who had been, or at least appeared to have been, severely disabled as children, but eventually learned to talk (or in some cases to communicate by typing) and eventually went to college. The best-known such figure is Temple Grandin. Another is Jim Sinclair, who didn't start talking until age 12.
These people had the kinds of childhood memories that could give great insights to parents of severely disabled autistic children. And many parents appreciated them for their insights.
The autistic rights movement was founded by several such autistic people who had been speakers at autism conferences, and who then decided they wanted to be more than just "self-narrating zoo exhibits." For details, see Autism Network International: The Development of a Community and its Culture by Jim Sinclair, January 2005.
Most of us today do not have such memories.
In my opinion, those autistic people who do have clear childhood memories of what it was like to be severely disabled, but who grew up to attain average or above-average intellectual development, should be sought out by autism researchers as a source of insights into possible new ways to maximize the intellectual and social development of severely disabled autistic children. To me it's very sad that they are not (as far as I am aware) currently being sought out by researchers for this purpose.
Anyhow, the experiences of people like Jim Sinclair, who were the majority of leaders of the early autistic rights movement, are what led to the ideal of a single unified autistic community encompassing people of all ability levels.
The tradition begun by Autism Network International continues to be carried on, today, by annual conferences like Autscape in the U.K., and by organizations like ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network) here in the U.S.A.