A friend pointed me to the brilliant Temple Grandin's TED talk on the Assets of Autism.
Oh, how I adore Ms. Grandin. If you've read her book or seen the movie about her life, you'll see that she hits on two very key points that I feel really, really strongly about:
1) First and foremost, manners. Kids - and yes, that includes children on the autism spectrum - can be and need to be taught manners. Of course, there are going to be challenges with this, and depending on where that child sits on the spectrum, there may be a limit to what you can get them to do. But the bottom line is that if you've got a higher-functioning child on the spectrum, they need to learn how to get along in the world they'll be living in.
That means learning to be polite, to say please and thank you, to have table manners and good hygiene. They need to learn the importance of having a good work ethic, being pleasant to coworkers (even if it's by rote), of learning to make appropriate "small talk". And along with their parents, they need mentors (teachers and peers) to help them do it.
2) Engage the child and be specific to their strengths. One of the points Ms. Grandin makes in her talk is that she was lousy in Algebra and because of that they wouldn't let her take Geometry or Trigonometry, which was a big mistake because she excels in both, being the visual learner that she is.
Children on the spectrum are very specific in what they excel in, and if a teacher plays to those strengths, it sets them up for a potential career in a field that plays to those strengths.
Food for thought, from someone who got the foundation she needed to help her help herself. That's all any of us want for our kids, whether they have special needs or not.