Autism/Aspergers as alleged next step/stage of human evolution?
I've run into a lot of gripes about alleged claims that autism, or at least what used to be called "Asperger's syndrome" is the "next step" or "next stage" of human evolution. It is commonly alleged that neurodiversity proponents make this claim.
I have NOT yet run into any actual autistic rights activists or autistic community leaders who have made that particular claim, although I've run into a lot of complaints about the idea, which is commonly equated with an alleged advocacy of "Aspie supremacy."
So I decided to do a little digging to see who, exactly, is claiming that autism/Aspergers is the next step/stage of human evolution. What I've discovered, so far, is not very many people who appear to be seriously making that claim. But there are at least several people who appear to be saying it as either a joke or a rhetorical flourish. I've also run into a couple of fictional treatments of the idea, including a play and a movie.
I did find one very high-profile person in the autism world who sometimes speaks of Asperger's syndrome being the "next stage of human evolution" -- Tony Attwood, an internationally renowned clinical psychologist who, along with Lorna Wing, was one of the main codifiers and popularizers (in the English-speaking world) of the very idea of "Asperger's Syndrome." But he's one of the people for whom the idea of a "next stage of human evolution" appears to be just a rhetorical fluorish, not a serious hypothesis.
One of the places he says it is in his book The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, originally published in 2007. A mention of Asperger's syndrome as "perhaps ... the next stage of human evolution" appears at the bottom of page 32 of the 2005 paper back edition, of which a PDF copy can be found here. The immediate context is:
Having a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome could limit the expectations of others, who may assume that the person will never be able to achieve as well as his or her peer swith regard to social, academic and personal success. The diagnosis should facilitate realistic expectations but not dictate the upper limits of ability. I have known adults with Asperger’s syndrome whose successful careers have ranged from professor of mathematics to social worker; and those whose ability in the area of relationships ranges from enjoying a fulfilling but celibate life, to having a life-long partner and being a much-loved parent.
As a society, we need to recognize the value of having people with Asperger’s syndrome in our multi-cultural and diverse community. In summary, maybe we should consider the comment from an adult with Asperger’s syndrome who suggested to me that perhaps Asperger’s syndrome is the next stage of human evolution.
The larger context is a section about the advantages and disadvantages of getting a diagnosis.
Given the context of the book as a whole, it is clear to me that Tony Attwood isn't seriously promoting the idea of Aspies as some forthcoming race of supermen. He is well aware of the disadvantages of Asperger's syndrome, as well as the advantages many Aspies may have too. Obviously, there wouldn't have been any point in making "Asperger's syndrome" a diagnostic category in the first place if Aspies were not disabled. But he also wanted to de-stigmatise Asperger's Syndrome and to point out that most Aspies do have strengths as well as weaknesses. His aim was to give hope, both to Aspies themselves and to their parents.