cure for autism is a very long way off – scientists barely understand the condition – but even if there was the possibility of a cure should we use it? The distinguished autism researcher Prof Simon Baron-Cohenbrought that up today at the British Association Festival of Science. He believes the condition should be recognised as an atypical form of development, like left handedness, but not cured.

That goes against many well-funded and high-profile groups who want to encourage research that will ultimately lead to ways of preventing or treating autism. Their names – Cure Autism Now and Defeat Autism Now – speak for themselves.

To some with autism and Asperger’s syndrome though, this is a statement that they do not deserve to exist. One support group calledAspies for Freedom, for example says:

We know that autism is not a disease, and we oppose any attempts to “cure” someone of an autism spectrum condition, or any attempts to make them ‘normal’ against their will.

To others, “curing” an autistic person would mean replacing that person with someone else.

Autism is not something that I have, it is something that I am. Autism is in every emotion I experience, in every thought I think. Autism is throughout my philosophy, my political beliefs, my religious convictions. Autism affects my choice of job, my taste in clothes, my favourite music and literature, the artforms I like, and those I dislike…If it were possible to remove autism from a person, you would get a different person. A person who, perhaps, fits in better with his surroundings. Maybe a person who abides by the rules of society more. A person who does not stick out. That person will look identical to the previous one, but will be a different person nonetheless.

Prof Baron-Cohen’s research points towards testosterone levels in the womb being critically important – although the scientific case is far from proven yet. “There is a very live debate about whether autism should simply be recognised as an atypical pattern of development like left handedness which doesn’t necessarily need treatment,” he said, “It just needs to be recognised as different and maybe supported educationally but not cured or eradicated.”