At The New York Times, Kwame Anthony Appiah writes that a rationale for affirmative action is to undo a history of unjust exclusion.
Does this apply to autism-spectrum disorder? Drawing boundaries around autism is not easy, because it’s a complex category with disputed criteria, but the C.D.C. estimates that one in 68 schoolchildren qualifies. (This includes people with “pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.”) The incidence in older cohorts was much lower, in part because of shifts in definition and reporting practices. What’s the incidence among full-time academics? Nobody knows. Some people think that especially in math, science and engineering faculties, people with “on the spectrum” traits aren’t rare, and research by the Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen lends support to this. Certainly some qualities of mind popularly associated with so-called high-functioning autism — focus, computational ability, a retentive memory, a preference for rational argument over feeling — are useful in most academic fields. What we don’t have is evidence that people with autism-spectrum traits have been excluded from them.He is suggesting that we lack evidence of exclusion from specific fields. But he overlooks the big picture. Prior to the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act (later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), schools could exclude autistic people completely. If there were very few ASD applicants in the past, perhaps the reason is that school systems kept them from even getting high school diplomas.