Like Abfh's post, this post is not about the article either, but about the comments posted by readers. In particular, I think comments by Mary Grace are note-worthy. Mary Grace is a teenager diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, who is herself featured in the article.
Mary Grace argued that autism can have "horrible disadvantages" and that this justifies a pro-cure position in regards to autism. She further stated that "there are probably dozens of stories where poor social skills have resulted in people being jailed or worse." When I try to discern the merit of an argument such as this, I prefer to think in analogies. So I mentioned that being black can entail "horrible disadvantages", particularly if we go back in history, and that being black has resulted in people being jailed or worse.
Mary Grace replied to my analogy as follows:
You don't have to do anything to be seen as black, it's just there. Social skills are different. They aren't always obvious as present or absent at first, and they can be improved upon. If a person with poor social skills (not necessarily AS, just poor in general) is arrested, aren't they more likely to show the worst of their traits and get themselves in more trouble? Social skills are important for anybody to have, and because of the nature of AS, we have to work extra hard. It's noit fair, but that doesn't change it. And I would like to emphasize that I most certainly do NOT buy into stigmatization of anyone for any reason, but I do acknowledge that stigmatization exists. And it does exist against people with poor social skills, and, as you said, against people of certain races. You can't change your race. But you can improve your social skills. That's where your arguement fails, I'm afraid. And it does suck to have poor social skills, or at least it sucked for me. I'm much happier now.
Essentially, Mary Grace argues that autistics are a different type of minority to blacks or gays or women or disabled minorities. If you are black, you can't do anything about that. If you are blind, there's not much you can do about it either in terms of regaining sight. But if you are autistic, and suffer due to your lack of social skills, you can work on improving your social skills.
Certainly, if you want to improve a skill, you can practice it. I'm a big believer in hard work and in that if you want to become better at something, you study it, and you practice, practice, practice. So what's wrong with this argument?
First of all, it is necessary to acknowledge that the world is full of physical limitations. I could practice basketball 10 hours a day for years and never become anywhere near as good as Michael Jordan. This is an example taken to the extreme, but it serves to illustrate that practice is not necessarily sufficient, and this applies even when trying to attain a "normal" level of skill. To presume that it is possible to achieve just about anything through hard work is wishful thinking. Optimism is a good thing, but unrealistic expectations are unhelpful.
Second, Mary Grace seems to suggest that autistic people have a responsibility to work hard on their social skills for their own good and for the common good. But is this the right thing to work for? Mary Grace says that black people cannot become less black, but I don't think this is even true. (Readers might be thinking of Michael Jackson at this point, but that's not what I mean). Couldn't black people "act white" so they can be more easily assimilated into white culture? Couldn't gays work hard at being attracted to the opposite sex? (There are behavioral interventions available). Should women who want to succeed in the work place act more like men in order to achieve their aims?
The deaf community has had to go through a similar debate, i.e. should deaf people be taught to sign and become part of deaf culture, or be taught oral methods (including lipreading) so that they can participate in the larger culture? My understanding is that deaf people, as a rule, favor manual methods. See Arguments in favor of Oralism are refuted by Manualists and Oral vs. Manual Debate.
Mary Grace also says she's happier now that she's learned social skills and is able to pass for normal. It's a good thing that she feels happy with herself and I don't want to imply otherwise. But it's also an experience contrary to that of other autistics, who say that when they stopped trying to fit in and started to accept what they were and no longer saw autism as a horrible thing, they became less depressed and anxious and so on.
Finally, while I disagree with Mary Grace, I just want to say that some of the responses she got, questioning her diagnosis, are out of line. This was debated already in Who can call themselves autistic? over at Ballastexistenz.