Viewing Autism Through a Cross-Cultural Lens (Pavitt & Hirshey)

New Perspectives:
Viewing Autism
Through a CrossCultural Lens
Sarah H. Pavitt M.Ed.
Georgeanne B. C. Hirshey M.Ed.
• Become familiar with operational definitions for
• Learn about diverse cultural values regarding child
development and family
• Identify barriers to services and resources for
CLD families
• Learn strategies for working collaboratively with
culturally and linguistically diverse families
• Identify topics for further research
Autism does not
discriminate on the
basis of racial,
ethnic or social
“Family income,
lifestyle, and
educational levels
do not affect the
chance of autism’s
(Dyches, Wilder, Sudweeks,
Obiakor, & Algozzine, 2004)
Operational Definitions
regarding multiculturalism
Operational Definitions
What is CULTURE?
“Culture is a shared system of meaning, which includes values, beliefs, and
assumptions expressed in daily interactions of individuals within a group
through a definite pattern of language, behavior, customs, attitudes, and
practices.” (Zero to Three)
Not the same as culture. Information about ethnicity, class, geographic
region of the country, and years living in the United States help us define
the “ecological niche” through which a family participates. That
information does not necessarily tell us what cultural values, beliefs, and
behaviors it
“Operationally defined, cultural competence is the integration and
transformation of knowledge about individuals and groups of people into
specific standards, policies, practices, and attitudes used in appropriate
cultural settings to increase the quality of services; thereby producing
better outcomes (Davis, 1997).
Autism Overview &
Includes a broad range of disorders that are considered
among the most debilitating and severe disabilities that
require comprehensive intervention and lifelong support
Individuals with ASD exhibit impairments in social
interaction, communication and restricted patterns of
behavior, interests and activities
Strikes in early childhood
Affects 4 times more boys than girls
Incidence is 1 in 150 children
Prevalence and incidence is universal and not
correlated with race or ethnicity
There is no cure for ASD. Therapies and behavioral
interventions are designed to remedy specific
symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement
Statistics/What we do know
No statistically significant difference exists in prevalence of
autism among African-Americans and Caucasian children,
however a study of 406 Medicaid-eligible children found that
African-American children with ASD received a diagnosis an
average of 1.5 years later than Caucasian children did (Mandell
et al., 2002).
Latinos have a lower probability of accessing services than
African Americans.
According to the Southwest Autism Research and resource
Center, Latino and Black children are typically diagnosed two
to five years later than whites.
Participation in research of members of certain cultural groups
may be inhibited by mistrust, fear and lack of understanding
regarding research agendas. This lack of participation may be
a reason for limited data on this topic.
Implications of
Cultural Reciprocity:
Barriers between service providers/agencies
often arise when service providers and families
do not recognize and accept the other's culture.
Looking at perspectives on disability:
. Western culture typically views disability
from a clinical perspective. Assumptions based
upon a clinical perspective:
* Disability is a physical phenomenon.
* Disability is an individual phenomenon.
* Disability is a chronic illness.
* Disability requires remediation or fixing.
Looking at non-Western cultures…
Other cultures may view disability quite
differently. Culturally-based assumptions may
contrast sharply with the medical or clinical
* Disability is a spiritual phenomenon.
* Disability is a group phenomenon (e.g., the
family and society are causal agents).
* Disability is a time-limited phenomenon.
•Disability must be accepted, which affects
whether the family seeks intervention.
(Harry, 1999)
Cultural Implications of Autism
• Diverse interpretations of “disability” –
these vary widely among cultures and
assumptions cannot be made in this regard.
• Perspectives on helpers
• Limited knowledge on autism in many
diverse cultures due to geographical,
cultural, and language barriers between
professionals and affected families
(Welterlin & Larue, 2007)
Barriers to
CLD Families
Barriers to Services
 Different conceptualizations of child
 Beliefs in etiology
 Minimal knowledge base regarding special
education systems
 Language & communication differences
 Financial resources
 Immigration status
 Psychological obstacles
 Employment & family issues
Strategies for Working
Collaboratively with
CLD Families
Strategies for Working
Ecocultural approach
By incorporating the components of a family’s social and
cultural environment to create a “best fit” intervention, the
efficacy of and compliance with an intervention is likely to
increase significantly (Moes & Frea, 2002; Brookman-Frazee,
Identification and integration of a family’s strengths and
Examine support systems
Supporting Family Involvement in Evidence-based Practice
Take cultural values into consideration when the school team
and the family select
treatment targets
Educators and service providers may need to be willing to
modify teaching and intervention strategies as appropriate to
meet the needs of students with cultural values and
experiences different from the dominant culture.
Further Research
Further Research
• Multi-cultural and diversity training for
professionals working with CLD families
• Further research on incidence among
minority and culturally and diverse
groups, both among immigrants to the
U.S. as well as internationally
• Teacher and professional training on best
practices for working in culturally and
linguistically diverse settings
• Further research into discrepancy in access to
treatment among diverse groups
Davis, K. (1997). Exploring the intersection between cultural
competency and managed behavioral health care policy:
Implications for state and county mental health agencies.
Alexandria, VA: National Technical Assistance Center for State
Mental Health Planning.
Harry, B., Kalyanpur, M., & Day, M. (1999). Building Cultural
Reciprocity with families. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes
Publishing Co.
Harry, B., Rueda, R., Kalyanpur, M. Cultural Reciprocity in
Sociocultural Perspective: Adapting the Normalization Principle
for Family Collaboration. Exceptional Children.
Sarah H. Pavitt
[email protected]
Contact information:
Georgeanne B.C. Hirshey
[email protected]

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