OK, so here is where we differ today versus 1979 per that ancient autism article in Rolling Stone:
There seemed to be no concept of the autism spectrum that we speak of today. When a specific symptom of autism is discussed, it sounds as if every autistic child is equally affected, such as this: “For the autistic, there seems to be little difference between ‘father’ and ‘light bulb’.” The author is referring to the emotional detachment of some with autism, but this is not true of Audrey (and many others with autism), who is very attached to and affectionate with her parents and others that she is close with. She knows perfectly well that there is a difference between her father and a light bulb...although Mommy remains unconvinced and really only considers one of them to be a consistently useful household fixture.
The author talks about “hyperskills”, some of which are familiar such as uncanny language, music, and memory skills, but also gross motor skills: “Autistic toddlers can often throw balls consistently within an inch of someone’s hand across a large room.” Huh? Audrey can barely throw a ball consistently within one inch of herself. An expert explains such skills with this pearl, “Some people can concentrate, others can’t. Then there are those who concentrate far too well.” I don't think that you would hear any "expert" today accuse autistic children of concentrating too well.
It appears that mostly the more severely impacted children were being diagnosed at that time: "Joey lives in an institution, as do many autistic children whose parents have given up." He also mentions extreme self-injurious behaviors like children who bite off their own fingers and scream until they blow out their vocal chords. We've come very far on this front. Today it is mostly the parents who are being institutionalized, biting off digits, and shredding their vocal chords.
The author observed behavioral therapy using the Lovaas method. They had only just recently stopped using electric shocks as a negative reinforcer, but were still using the "aversive no". Meaning that a therapist screamed "NO!" in a child's face every time they didn't elicit the correct response/behavior. To justify this method, the experts said "Have you ever seen a child pull out his own jugular vein?" and pointed out the much worse treatment they would get in an institution. Such rationalizations wouldn't fly today.
The statistics included in the story are interesting. I've heard it many times quoted that the prevalence of autism has grown from 1 in 10,000 in the 1980's to the 1 in 110 figure today. But this author says 1 in 2,000 were autistic in 1979. No source is given for that figure. He also says that at that time there were only 50 private autism programs in the country and just 150 public school classrooms dedicated to autistic students. For that reason alone I'm so happy to be living in the 21st century.
I'll end with a quote from the article with which I will definitely not disagree:
"The children often share a haunting, numinous beauty, as if the intrusion of coherent reality is the thing that ages and distorts the rest of us."