What does the way that autistic individuals bypass, learn, and eventually master language tell us about humans’ genetically encoded linguistic ability? In this theoretical review, we argue that autistic non-social acquisition of language and autistic savant abilities provide a strong argument for an innate, human-specific orientation towards (and mastery of) complex embedded structures. Autistic non-social language learning may represent a widening of the material processed during development beyond oral language. The structure detection and manipulation and generative production of non-linguistic embedded and chained material (savant abilities in calendar calculation, musical composition, musical interpretation, and three-dimensional drawing) may thus represent an application of such innate mechanisms to non-standard materials. Typical language learning through exposure to the child’s mother tongue may represent but one of many possible achievements of the same capacity. The deviation from typical language development in autism may ultimately allow access to oral language, sometimes in its most elaborate forms, and also explain the possibility of the absence of its development when applied exclusively to non-linguistic structured material. Such an extension of human capacities beyond or in parallel to their usual limits call into question what we consider to be specific or expected in humans and therefore does not necessarily represent a genetic “error”. Regardless of the adaptive success or failure of non-social language learning, it is the duty of science and ethical principles to strive to maintain autism as a human potentiality to further foster our vision of a plural society.
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