Related, but not a duplicate.

Imagine a version of modern or slightly into the future earth in which it is quite common to be born on the autism spectrum. There are still plenty of neurotypical people in the world, but I'd say at least, oh, 35% of the population fall somewhere on the spectrum, ranging from mild aspergers to experiencing severe difficulties learning to talk and processing touch (among other things; this is an oversimplification to illustrate range, not an exhaustive list of symptoms).

To prevent the scenario from becoming too depressing, let's assume that society as a whole is fairly benevolent: while being autistic might still get one labeled "weird" by neighbors or schoolmates, there is no large-scale discrimination or violence that might parallel racism. To be clear, I am NOT considering scenarios in which some sort of neurological class system emerges--although that might be an interesting follow up question ;). I'm assuming the goal of society to let everyone live as happy and productive a life as possible.

Also, assume that autism is not "curable". Some people may be able to learn to overcome some of their limitations, but re-wiring peoples' brains through medicine is not an option for either technical or ethical reasons (it really doesn't matter which).

Given these premises:

  • What shape does society take to better meet the needs of the increased neurodiversity of the population? What changes in the BIG PICTURE of how society is run?

  • Given that the issues they experience are now much more common (and support and resources are presumably now much easier to come by), how might people on the autism spectrum cope with aspects of life that they find difficult, such as sensory overstimulation? What DETAILS change regarding how these people live their everyday lives?

  • What are the long term effects on society?

Example lines of thought to pursue include clothing choices, company policies, laws, entertainment, social customs, etc. You don't HAVE to talk about any of these things in your answers, it's just a few things that immediately came to mind.

I'm looking for answers that are creative, realistic/respectful of how autism actually affects people, and hopefully, interesting from a story-telling perspective.

Lastly, I'd like to emphasize that this is a purely fictitious scenario and in no way reflects any predictions or beliefs on my part. Please keep it civil and based in fact.

  • $\begingroup$ You'd need to specify the balance of effect. Most people who appear on the scale are able to function "normally" for a given value of "normal", considered no worse than "a bit weird" by our peers, but I get the feeling you want a much higher level of highly autistic rather than mild aspergers. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 3 '16 at 11:12
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    $\begingroup$ I'd expect something closer to sexism than racism. Sort of "you can't do this because you have the wrong brain" situations. $\endgroup$ – sh1 Feb 3 '16 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ Just to comment that this world is less unlikely than you may think. It may be our future. Because with the advent of computers and other complexities, people at the mild end of the spectrum are suddenly much in demand and economically successful. Also it is now far easier to find "someone like me" for dating. So they marry and have kids and various uncommon recessive genes get doubled up. Not saying there is an "autism gene" but there is certainly some genetic input to being atypical. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Feb 4 '16 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ The education system might change, so that it teaches a lot of the social things that are supposedly "intuitive" to neurotypical people. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 26 '16 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Classes like that are already available from private institutions (I've taken many myself), but the notion of them being integrated into a standard curriculum is intriguing. Thanks for your contribution! $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Feb 27 '16 at 1:18

The other answers already mention most of the adaptations that would be aimed at facilitating people on the autistic spectrum, but I expect there would be much broader changes to society and education especially.

Teaching Neurotypicals to coexist

With kindergarten and elementary school classrooms containing up to a third of children on the autistic spectrum, I expect the neurotypical children will receive implicit and explicit training in how to talk, play and generally coexist with their less typical classmates. They will grow up knowing that their intuitive social cues don't work on all people and as an effect start being more explicit about their intentions and expectations, even to other neurotypicals.

They will also experience a lot of the varying limitations/issues their autistic classmates have to overcome and learn not to judge them but rather to recognize the limitations, accept those as a given and learn how to work around them.

Languages will change

Starting at schools again, "confusing" ambiguous and figurative language will be eliminated from the curriculum and discouraged at all times. Figurative speech will all but disappear from mainstream language, but flourish in art and counter-cultures. Slang will be big among the neurotypicals that resent all these changes. Autistic people are not the only ones to have problems dealing with change after all...

Socialism will rise

At least, societies will move to the left politically. Health care, social security and employment laws will become more comprehensive in order to accommodate the larger group of people not able to compete effectively in the rat race being sold as the freedom to make your own destiny. Politics will change in other ways as people on the autistic spectrum will not "vote with their gut feeling", but more likely sift through detailed election programs to find the correct candidate. They will become a powerful voting bloc immune to the likes of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.

One job for life will return

Autistic people will be in a position to demand and receive (see the previous point) a more stable work life, where companies face high payouts and/or transition costs if they want to fire people (any people, not just autistic) as well as extensive orientation and training costs when they hire a new employee. Notice periods may extend to a year and promotions will planned out several months ahead with the employee in question.

Additionally, companies will receive tax benefits when they employ people with more severe limitations, allowing them maintain a good productivity to labor costs balance. Companies will compete vigorously for the high-functioning autistic people especially and lure them in with life-long career prospects and plenty of time to work on their fields of interest.

Overall, companies that learn how to effectively employ and nurture people on the autism spectrum will reap the benefits, while the neurotypicals that thrive on competition, rivalry, etc. (think psychopathic CEOs and greedy bankers) will end up concentrated in relatively few companies, because they scare away a large part of the talent and so are not welcome everywhere anymore.

  • $\begingroup$ It was a tough decision, but I think this answer deserves the bounty the most. Thank you very much for answering. I for one would love to live in the world you describe. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Mar 4 '16 at 10:02

I have mild Asperger's, so I'm in the "could pass for normal at a distance" category. So, take this for whatever it's worth. That said, I'd expect one major area to be in sensory issues, as follows:

  • Noise limits would probably be more strictly enforced, in particular regarding loud music, as it's quite common for us to be hypersensitive to noise. The fact that blaring music will damage your hearing is just an added reason.
  • School uniforms (where present) would have to be made available in alternative fabrics for those who can't process e.g. cotton/synthetics.
  • House lighting would by default be based around dimmer switches, rather than a simple on/off switch, to accommodate those with increased sensitivity to light (whether through sensory issues, or through physical problems with the eye).

Another thing that would change is that, as suggested by King-Ink below, police would receive better training for handling people who don't respond normally to the police - which in the long run would probably help other people (neurotypical or otherwise).

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    $\begingroup$ I don't feel like writing it up but there would have to be better police training to accommodate those that don't respond correctly to police interactions. $\endgroup$ – King-Ink Feb 3 '16 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ @King-Ink updating to add that. $\endgroup$ – Philip Rowlands Feb 3 '16 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ If dimmer switches become common, they'll also have to stop making so much damned noise. $\endgroup$ – sh1 Feb 3 '16 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ I like your answer quite a bit and I haven't decided not to accept it yet, but I was hoping to get more than one answer. As such I'll be opening a bounty to try and draw some more attention. Just wanted to make it clear I'm not dissatisfied with your answer :) $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Feb 26 '16 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ Lets not forget pet therapy. Society will be much more adapted allowing therapy dogs everywhere and knowing how to behave properly with them around. $\endgroup$ – Erik vanDoren Feb 28 '16 at 0:12

A world where mild to moderate autism was both common and socially acceptable could potentially be better than the one we live in today, for both the autistic and the non-autistic.

The autism spectrum is extremely broad, ranging from low-functioning to savaants. While I don't want to play off of the 'autistic genius' trope too much, there is some truth to it; not being distracted or bothered by social standards can be very helpful when it comes to focusing on a project or simply thinking outside the box. It is also common for people with Asperger's to become experts in their selected field by focusing on its study to the exclusion of all else. Not all autistics are geniuses, but many geniuses are autistic to some degree, and it is not unlikely that many others have been held back from attaining their potential because of their peers pushing them down or society making them feel worthless or 'disabled'.

A society that was more accepting of people on the autistic spectrum overall would be much better at recognizing talent where it exists, without being put off by the 'weirdness' of the individuals in which it rests. Such a society could evolve faster by being more tolerant and accommodating of its "differently abled" individuals and growing off of their contributions.

As for those who could not contribute more than the average person, life would be better for them too. It is likely that 'social behavior classes' would be much more common (and acceptable) than they are now, becoming a regular part of the school curriculum, perhaps even required. Even non-autistics could benefit from these classes - people who are naturally socially gifted are rare even in our world, most people have to blunder their way through social circles before they figure out their way. In the end, social behavior would be seen like math or language arts - everyone with an education has studied it, some people are naturally good at it and some people are not, and there's nothing wrong with that.

On the other hand, extreme forms of autism can be very difficult to deal with. When 'mildly uncanny and off-putting' turns into 'practically harmful to the well-being of themselves and others', you're dealing with a whole different category of individual, and if such levels of autism were commonplace (too common to be controlled), you'd be dealing with a world gone mad. But such individuals are quite rare in our world, so I expect that they would still be too rare to make a significant impact on the way society functions overall, although the way we look at mental illness may be different.

One possible major change to the functioning of society would be an increase in extreme specialization, due to the aforementioned tendency for 'Aspies' to specialize in a particular field. College curricula might become more focused, with schedules focused on depth of study rather than breadth, and one's chosen profession might define a person's abilities even more than they do today. It is unlikely to evolve into a full-blown caste system (since the majority of people are still 'neurotypical') but it might have shades of that. I'd expect scientists to be really good at science and artists to be really good at art but have fewer skills outside of their field. Ironically, this would increase the importance of teamwork for anyone who wanted to get anything done.

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    $\begingroup$ On the flip side, people who are extremely socially gifted can also be dangerous to society (and perhaps themselves). Think con artists, cult leaders, demagogic politicians & dictators... $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 3 '16 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ Man, never have I wanted to accept two answers this badly before. I ultimately decided to give the points to Cyrus, but thank you very for your answer. I for one would love to live in the world you describe. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Mar 4 '16 at 10:01

Here's a list of what I've gathered:

  1. Everyone in society would be more accepting and kind to everyone else. By showing kindness, to these mentally disabled citizens, society basically just becomes a better place. On a side note, teachers (as well as policemen as stated above) will be far more patient and understanding of their students.
  2. Accommodations in the workplace, taken from here (check out page 7-9, there are about 300 accommodations listed, I chose a few)

• Provide advance notice of topics to be discussed in meetings to help facilitate communication • Allow employee to provide written response in lieu of verbal response

• Provide structured breaks to create an outlet for physical activity • Allow employee to use items such as hand-held squeeze balls and similar objects to provide sensory input or calming effect

• Provide private workspace where employee will have room to move about and not disturb others by movements such as fidgeting

• Divide large assignments into several small tasks • Set a timer to make an alarm after assigning ample time to complete a task • Provide a checklist of assignments

o Redesign employee’s office space to minimize visual distractions

• Develop color-code system for files, projects, or activities

• Use a job coach to teach/reinforce organization skills

• Provide written instructions • Prompt employee with verbal cues • Safely and securely maintain paper lists of crucial information such as passwords • Allow employee to use voice activated recorder to record verbal instructions

• Label or color-code each task in sequential or preferential order • Provide individualized/specialized training to help employee learn techniques for multi-tasking (e.g., typing on computer while talking on phone)

• Remove or reduce distractions from work area • Provide weekly or monthly meetings with the employee to discuss workplace issues and productions levels

• Provide praise and positive reinforcement

• Allow the presence and use of a support animal • Modify work schedule

o Provide concrete examples of accepted behaviors and consequences for all employees

o Use training videos to demonstrate appropriate social skills in workplace o Encourage all employees to model appropriate social skills o Use role-play scenarios to demonstrate appropriate social skills in workplace o Give assignments verbally, in writing, or both, depending on what would be most beneficial to the employee (e.g., use of visual charts)

o Assist employee in assigning priority to assignments o Assign projects in a systematic and predictable manner o Establish long term and short term goals for employee

o Provide sensitivity training to promote disability awareness

o Encourage employees to minimize personal conversation or move personal conversation away from work areas

o Maintain good indoor air quality o Discontinue the use of fragranced products

o Modify workstation location

o Provide an environmental sound machine to help mask distracting sounds o Provide noise canceling headsets o Provide sound absorption panels

Accommodations in schools, taken from here (summarized):

Have a set routine for the school day.

For younger students, provide a picture schedule. The schedule can be posted for all students to use or a small, desktop version can be created.

Some students may do well if tasks are held with Velcro so they can remove them as the task is completed. Provide adequate notice for any change of schedule, except in cases of emergency.

Provide lessons by giving a short summary of what will be covered, a detailed explanation and finish with a summary of the lesson.

Provide an area of the classroom the student can retreat to in times of high stimulation or when overwhelmed.

Identify distractions and take steps to minimize them.

Give directions that are clear and concise, using literal language.

Provide written notes or have another student use carbon paper to share notes if handwriting is a problem. Use oral testing or other alternative testing methods for those with difficulty taking written tests.

Some children with sound sensitivities may find clapping, yelling out of turn and high frequency sounds extremely distracting and in some cases, painful.

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    $\begingroup$ I have one major complaint with this. People who are mildly to moderately on the autistic spectrum are NOT in any way, shape, or form disabled. Differently abled, perhaps, and I'd argue in many respects superior - but then I'm obviously prejudiced :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 3 '16 at 4:54
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Agreed. It's one of the few contexts were the term "differently abled" makes sense to me. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Mar 3 '16 at 22:01

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