Autism in the Developing World

Ever since we got an autism diagnosis for Tuffy, I have occasionally stopped to wonder how many of the autism-related issues that are considered “problems” are really only problems because of the expectations our culture puts on children. For example, lack of eye contact. In some cultures, eye contact it is not expected and/or can be considered impolite. Generally speaking, I feel like the demands on our children just increase and increase as our society becomes more “advanced.”  Just look at schools! The expectations for reading levels in kindergarten are about what they were for first graders thirty years ago.  I’m not even sure that anyone has stepped back to ask “why.” I guess we all just want our kids to have some kind of “edge,” so if kids are capable of learning more, earlier, faster, we’ll just push them to do it because they can. And by the way, the demands on our senses also continue to increase. It’s always more, louder, faster! We’re on the go all the time (e.g. multiple transitions per day); birthday parties are much more likely to have a bouncy house; oh, and by the way, parents should get at least one date night per month! (Therefore, if your kids have a hard time separating and you rarely end up on a date night, you feel like you’re getting gypped and also failing at marriage.)

I don’t want to romanticize poverty, but I sometimes wonder if mild autism causes much less stress for everyone involved in developing countries. I could be totally wrong, so anyone with special needs experience in other culture please educate me, but I figure that in a small rural village probably experience less overload, very consistent daily routines, and fewer choices. (Tuffy used to just burst into tears when I asked him to choose a shirt, a food, etc.) These differences would almost certainly lead to way fewer meltdowns!

So, once in a while, when I’m feeling sorry for myself because my children can’t sit quietly through a movie, I try to remind myself that it’s only a problem because my first-world self expects to be able to sit through a movie now and then.

On the other hand, I also unfortunately suspect that kids with more severe autism and other disabilities do not fare well at all in many other cultures.  I actually just got this book from the library – The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs Chattel and Changlings – and while I’m not sure how much it addresses disability, I’m very curious to read about how parenting is approached around the world and glean whatever autism-related insights I can.  Some things I wonder about a lot are – how do people in extreme poverty deal with children who have a hard time eating certain foods? I suspect that issue comes up less often in that context, but I truly believe that kids with severe autism and/or other issues that lead to very restricted diets must be born everywhere in the world! And another thing that’s been on my mind a lot lately – bed-wetting! Tuffy still has trouble with this, which leads to a lot of laundry. Again, this issue must come up everywhere on earth now and then, so how do people without access to washing machines deal with this??

I’m sure I will be updating you all as I read this book–and I would love to hear about books/articles/etc related to autism in the developing world, so please send any recommendations my way!

Law-Mom: Econ-Mom, you raise great questions. Thank you for raising all of our awareness. As for today’s culture and expectations: I completely agree with you. I think everything has gone just slightly off kilter and that a lot of today’s parents go a bit over-board on things–particularly birthday parties. I blame Pinterest. (“Parenting Culture on 11.”)

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