As I’ve discussed many times, the rate of autism and the manner in which we address it has changed drastically throughout the 20th century and up until today. But some may forget that every year on April 2nd, we celebrate World Autism Awareness Day. Sometimes as Americans we tend to forget that there’s a whole wide world out there (I say this as affectionately as possible). And as someone whose top interests include history, international affairs, different cultures, and just generally learning about the world, I was curious as to how other countries view autism, and how prevalent it is. In my research, I discovered some very interesting trends that I would like to share with you all.
One recurring theme is that autism seems to be most common, or at least more widely diagnosed, in developed nations such as Japan, the UK, the US, Sweden, Hong Kong, etc. The data I pulled from here is consistent with every other source I found on the subject. Western Europe, North America and East Asia seem to have the highest rates of autism in the world, and a lot of that is most likely similar to what we see in the US: better awareness by advocacy groups, a more accepting social climate, and improved methods of diagnosis. Japan always seems to come in at number 1, while the US ranks anywhere between 5 and 3. The other interesting thing I found was the complete lack of autism prevalence in places like Africa and the Middle East. These areas are generally more poverty-stricken and less accepting to people’s differences, so it comes as little surprise that autism is not focused on in these places.
Speaking of, how do some other cultures view autism? Well, from what I can tell, across most of Western Europe, Australia, Canada, etc. it’s much the same as in the US, with improvements every year. However, in some places, there’s a more nuanced view of autism. For example, in South Korea, they have a phrase for autism: “chapae.” It is considered a “genetic mark of shame on the entire family, and a major obstacle to all of their children’s chances of finding suitable spouses,” and the stigma can become such a problem that Korean clinicians will intentionally misdiagnose their patients as having something else entirely. That is astounding to me that something like that is going on in such an advanced nation. Even here in America we see a different take on ASD in the Hispanic communities. Even adjusted for socioeconomic factors, rates of autism are lower in the Hispanic demographic than any other in America. It’s theorized that traits of autism can affect one’s reproductive chances.
I find it so interesting how autism is viewed so differently around the world, and how culture shapes that view so intensely. Personally, I’m glad to have it here in the US, where people are widely accepting and there are so many great resources available.
- G. Sosso