"The little I know about ALS is that it is a horrible and fatal neurodegenerative disease... I learned that most ALS sufferers do not have a family member with ALS and most researchers believe ALS is caused by a genetic predisposition and environmental factors. While doctors have gotten much better at recognizing and diagnosing ALS, there are almost no medical treatments. Sound familiar?" --http://www.ageofautism.com/2009/07/from-als-to-autism-failure-isnt-the-enemy-denial-is.html
Is autism fatal? No.
Is autism neurodegenerative? No.
Is autism genetic and hereditary? Yes. Perhaps not all of it, but the overwhelming majority of it is.
Does autism have environmental factors? Yes, all of which are most likely set in place while in utero. (See Coleman, 2005, The Neurology of Autism for this question and the above, or some of my previous posts).
As to whether autism is horrible? That's a judgment call individuals will make based on their experience with, the degree of impairment, the adaptive coping skills, the personality makeup, and a hundred other factors.
I personally reject the idea that autism is horrible. My children have autism. It is not something that was inflicted on them, it is a part of who they are because it is a part of how their brains are wired. My children are beautiful, challenging, fascinating people who require a great deal of effort, energy, and patience to help them achieve their full potential. There are rough days. There are tiring days. And as I said in a comment on Huff yesterday, there were years of fractured days and splintered nights because of their special needs. But it has never been horrible. In the end, horrible is a choice you personally make in labelling an experience. I can think of plenty of things that are horrible.
So, exactly how are autism and ALS alike?