Multicultural Issues In Autism


Before we discuss Multicultural issues in Autism, it may be advisable to discuss briefly exactly what Autism is. Autism is widely considered to be a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts. It is considered to be a disability that effects a student’s communication, social interaction and educational performance. Six characteristics of this are atypical language development, a typical social development, repetitive behaviour, problem behaviour, sensory and movement disorders and differences in intellectual functions. This of course means different things to different cultures. Cultural variables can be crucial in determining how well a family accepts a medical diagnosis and thus the outcome. To use an example of this, Anglo-Saxon people are likely to search for physical reasons behind the onset of Autism whereas African-Americans may search for the answers in diet. Therefore physicians tend to search for symptoms of Autism at an earlier age for Anglo-Saxon people, compared to their African-American counterparts. Religion, also, can provide a major source of support for autistic families, providing them with strength, patience and comfort. Some believe that Autism is a punishment from God. Customary beliefs, social norms and material traits of a racial, religious or social group, forms the basis of any culture. This means that Students with multicultural backgrounds and autism are challenged on at least four dimensions:

  1. Communication
  2. Social Skills
  3. Behaviour Repertoires
  4. Culture

This translates to meaning that Multicultural Students with special needs have more difficulty with the academic and behavioural customs of the school culture than do Students with special needs from the dominant Culture. The three major factors associated with challenges in educational quality are:

  1. Race and Ethnicity
  2. Language Barriers
  3. Poverty

This means that greater understanding needs to be demonstrated by teachers, as well as the wider community, towards Multicultural Students with Autism. To understand this on a grander scale, we need to be aware of certain prejudices that exist towards certain groups on the basis of disability, race, gender, socioeconomic standing and so on. Even teachers can be prejudiced against students who disrupt the smooth running of their class with “eccentric” behaviour. So therefore we need to examine our own prejudicial views and behaviours before trying to show our own narrow view of how people should behave. A discussion of how to help multicultural students with Autism must include consideration of their communication and language abilities and skills. Problems with communication are a main barrier in dealing with autism anyway and is magnified if English is not the first language at home



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