If we can land a man on the moon, why can’t we cure autism? Frustrated parents may ask that question, remembering that when John F. Kennedy committed the United States to go to the moon, NASA scientists and engineers figured out how to get there. Ever since Neil Armstrong stepped off the lunar module in 1969, politicians have held up the Apollo project as a model for solving all kinds of problems. But autism is not rocket science. Contrary to the usual meaning of that expression, I hardly suggest that autism science is simple; rather, it is more puzzling than rocket science.
When the moon program was getting under way, there was consensus about the fundamental terms and facts. Although the engineering details were challenging, the basic math and physics behind the mission dated back to Isaac Newton. Autism is different. As we have already seen, it is a contested concept with many uncertainties. Just picture an Apollo program in which experts saw different kinds of moons in different parts of the sky and were not quite sure about the laws of motion.At The Guardian, David Mitchell (translator of The Reason I Jump) writes:
The road to understanding autism is unfinished, zigzagging and punctuated by speed bumps, the first of which is the question that transformed my life as a dad in 2008: “What is autism, anyway?” My son was three years old when he was diagnosed, but autism resists definition, vigorously. Google Down’s syndrome or Parkinson’s disease, and you’ll get a broadly agreed-upon set of causes and criteria. Google “autism”, and you get a can of worms, a minefield, academic papers and a shouting match.