What if we cured Asperger’s?

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

I was reading Pejman’s post (other interesting links) and found this from the UK Mail:

A 12-year-old child prodigy has astounded university professors after grappling with some of the most advanced concepts in mathematics.

Jacob Barnett has an IQ of 170 – higher than Albert Einstein – and is now so far advanced in his Indiana university studies that professors are lining him up for a PHD research role.

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Jake was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome, a mild form of autism, from an early age.

His parents were worried when he didn’t talk until the age of two, suspecting he was educationally abnormal.

It was only as he began to grow up that they realised just how special his gift was.

He would fill up note pads of paper with drawings of complex geometrical shapes and calculations, before picking up felt tip pens and writing equations on windows.

By the age of three he was solving 5,000-piece puzzles and he even studied a state road map, reciting every highway and license plate prefix from memory.

What if Autism and Asperger’s gets cured? Worse, what if the genetic make-up was discovered and “fixed”. Worse, what if they’re diagnosed and destroyed via abortion? What if we have no more socially awkward geniuses around to solve problems?

Not all kids on the Autism spectrum are savants, of course. Many, in fact, require services. But these gems have to more than tip the cosmic balance the other way. And anyway, our definition of contribution to society can be so mangled and utilitarian as anyone blessed with a “special” child knows.

We need the extremes to define the norm for one thing. And we need the unconventional to create novel insights to seemingly insurmountable challenges. Further, we need different perspectives.

In a world dominated with the base and banal, I hope that a child such as this will never be “cured”. Humanity would be worse off for it.