Sunday, 29 November 2015

Autism around the World

by Jack Rockett


The general opinion of autism around the world has just as wide a spectrum as the autism spectrum itself. Here in the UK, it is very well accepted in society and people with a negative view on autism are generally treated critically, especially over social media as our younger population has a very high awareness of the autism spectrum and respect for those upon it. However, many other countries around the world either don’t register the existence of autism or fail to offer state support for those on the autism spectrum; the result can often be a negative opinion of people with autism on the part of most of the neurotypical population of those countries. Even economically developed countries like France and the USA have appalling records with regard to support for and attitude towards those on the autism spectrum.

The countries who provide the worst support for those on the autism spectrum are usually acting upon out-of-date information (often from decades ago) and those on the spectrum are stigmatised socially. The most common misconception is the Vaccine Myth, which, even though it has been disproved multiple times (causing the person who completed the erroneous report to lose his medical licence for life), is still believed by too many people in Italy and the USA to be a cause. In Italy, the state even gives out compensation to families who have a child on the autism spectrum if they received the MMR vaccine. The country furthest behind in information, unsurprisingly, is Russia, where only low-functioning children on the autism spectrum can be diagnosed; beyond the age of 18, their diagnosis of autism is replaced by one of either "psychosis" or "mental retardation"; this failure by the Russian authorities to recognise autism as a lifelong condition leads to huge stigma among the Russian public, which sees people on the autism spectrum as grotesque and unfit for society.

Very surprisingly, a similar social stigma continues in South Korea, one of the most economically developed countries in the world. South Korean parents dread a diagnosis of autism as it brings shame to the whole family; families have not been able to move house in South Korea as nobody wants to buy a house that has been inhabited by a person on the autism spectrum, as they worry that their children will end up with autism. However, on a more positive note, after the release of a movie about a South Korean man on the autism spectrum who ran marathons, the social stigma has lost prevalence, since the man's mother doesn’t see autism as bad in any way. This has been a mixed blessing. As a result of the film, South Korean parents are increasingly using autism as a way to describe their children to other people, meaning that many South Koreans are starting to believe that all people on the autism spectrum are the same, instead of recognising that autism covers a spectrum. 

As well as countries that provide wrong information, there are also countries which don’t provide anywhere near enough. I chose the autism spectrum as my theme for my Spanish-speaking AS exam and I had to find out information about the situation in Spanish-speaking countries. There was next to no resources from Latin America and information provided by Spain was very limited. Also, Spanish social and cultural conventions do not make allowances for people on the autism spectrum but the idea of changing this to help was never mentioned in any of the articles that I read, one of which even suggested throwing a party for a child with autism on World Autism Day even though children on the autism spectrum usually dislike parties due to the loud noise.

It is essential that people in all societies and cultures are educated about people on the autism spectrum in order for those on the spectrum to develop properly and reach their full potential. Although it can be difficult to get right, as everyone with autism is different, it mustn’t ever be classed as ‘impossible’ like it is in the Netherlands, where people with neurological disorders like autism and ADHD are classed as ‘unteachable’ so that schools can refuse to teach them. This means that Dutch people with autism are excluded from the job market and from achieving many essential things in life. However, the worst autism programme in the economically developed world is in France, where the state still allows people to wrap children on the autism spectrum in freezing cloths (≈5⁰C). Even though many people have demanded that this practice be banned, the government still thinks that it is effective, despite the fact that many of the children that are on this programme hate it and that many scientists argue that it is of no benefit.

However, even though the treatment of autism is atrocious in so many developed nations, there are countries that treat it properly, such as the UK, Australia and Scandinavian countries. All autism provision in Australia and the UK supports the neurodiversity movement and most people on the autism spectrum in these countries attend mainstream school and have additional support to make sure they can achieve just as much as neurotypical people. There is no attitude of needing a cure, as we will never find one, or branding us as ‘impossible’ in any way and both countries put the needs of the people on the autism spectrum first and then their parents, with the goal of helping them to get the most out of their lives. In Denmark, there is a computing company called Specialisterne which supports people on the autism spectrum, offering them an active role in the workforce by asking specifically for people with autism to work for them as their brains are more suited to most of the jobs that the company offer. Therefore, even though most of the world has either no or very outdated information about autism, often resulting in an awful social stigma around it, there are a few countries that give autism the respect it deserves; luckily, ours is one of them. 

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