Star Trek Enterprise Review: Dear Doctor

In my rewatch of Star Trek Enterprise Season 1, a recent episode came to my attention that adds thought to the Autistic struggle for fairer human rights and adjustments. The episode is named “Dear Doctor” and was aired on 23rd January 2002.

In this episode the Enterprise crew encounter a planet with two human like species that apparently live in harmony. One species is called the Valakians and the other the Menk. The Menk are not as advanced as the Valakians. The Menk must live where the soil is not good for planting, despite the Menk culture being fairly agrarian. The Valakians say they can farm the land more efficiently with better technology and give the Menk whatever they need.

The Menk state they are treated well by the Valakians. Unfortunately the Valakians are dying from a genetic disease which is experiencing an accelerated rate of mutation. The Valakians will be extinct within 200 years. Enterprise finds a cure but choose not to share it as they believe the Mink are being treated like pets. The planets natural evolution maybe for the Mink to not be tied by the Valakians so therefore choose not to play God.

As an Autistic individual this felt very much like Neurotypicals (“Normal People”) were playing the role of the Valakians and many Autistic people the role of the Mink. Though the difference being we are the same species and Simon Baron-Cohen (a world leading Professor on Autism) is trying to find a genetic cure/screening of Autism.

Many Autistic people are being given just what they need (or less!) at a basic level to survive. There are many barriers for an Autistic person to advance in life. Notably structural unemployment.

Put simply there is an abundance of service sector jobs for altering the mental states of others. Autistic people struggle with Neurotypical social demands. Then of course there are sensory issues as well like sound.

The possible genetic cure/screening for Autism may not be positive for Neurotypicals even if one exists. It could lead to extinction like the Valakians. Given capitalism rarely plans over multiple generations, making permanent alterations to DNA may be our species undoing. We only have to look at our fight against climate change to see short term profit has got in the way of making long term beneficial decisions.

In the end I would like there to be more work done to make the world more accessible for Autistic people. Not just in terms of subsidies and adjustments to fit the existing opportunities but an entire new economic model that allows us to thrive more equally. Many do well working alone where they can hyperfocus with less social niceties. So much can be rethought out of the box if we are willing to adapt and change systems. This includes the economy.