Cultural Differences and Autism
4 mins read

Cultural Differences and Autism

What have I observed about cultural differences and autism?

One time when we were traveling we were sitting on one of those airport shuttle buses with a woman who said she was teacher in an overseas school. It was a Middle Eastern country. The woman said there was a campus for all students of different ages.

Because of my natural curiosity, I asked the woman how special needs kids were treated in that country. She told me that many special needs kids were not at the school because kids were treated differently according to their income. Her explanation surprised me.

The woman said if the kids were “rich kids,” they were kept at home and their disability was never discussed. If the kids were “lower income kids,” they more than likely at the school and were receiving special needs services.

She explained that in the country she worked, families with money hid their special needs kids and did not want anyone to know about them.

Then there was the student from China who was one of my volunteers at last year’s Walk Now for Autism Speaks Los Angeles. She said all kids with special needs were not discussed in China, whether they were rich or poor.

What about in the United States?

I have noticed cultural differences in regard to autism in my own country.

For example, I have known families who have kids on the autism spectrum but those families refuse to acknowledge that their kids need services and the reason is cultural. In their culture, you do not get services for a special needs child.

Also, I have talked with school administrators about other parents.

Turns out, many families from the Asian countries have a tendency to not want to discuss their children. Even at IEP’s they won’t talk. They just go along with everything. They don’t advocate for their children and they certainly don’t discuss special needs with other parents.

What about my own child with autism?

My child attends a school that has diverse cultures. For some of the students, and many of the parents, the English language is not their first language.

This became a problem for us when our child was in second grade because he was assigned to a teacher who had a thick accent. I truly believe that it was difficult for my child to understand his teacher. I believed this because it wasn’t always easy for me to understand that teacher.

Did we switch teachers?


What should we have done?

In hindsight, we should have switched teachers.  If I had it to do over again, I would have requested a change. But, we didn’t.

Our child had enough on his plate, and then you add in a teacher that he doesn’t quite understand, a teacher we couldn’t understand…the mix only made things worse.

It was too much for our second grader and we should have made a change.

What about my interaction with parents of different cultures?

Some parents of different cultures have kids on the autism spectrum and discussing autism gives us common ground. Autism goes beyond cultural lines. I feel I can talk to any of these parents about our kids, their services, and anything autism related. No matter their culture, if the topic is autism, I am in my comfort zone.

What about confrontations with other parents of a different culture?

Why else would I bring this up? I bring it up because is very important to me. It’s something that bothers me and it has to do with a cultural difference between me and another parent.

Because I have a lot to say about it, I will go into the specifics in my next blog.

For now, just remember that cultural lines can be crossed with familiar topics. If you know someone who is keeping something as important as autism a secret – just because their culture demands it – I hope you have the courage to try to help that family.

It’ll only benefit the child that may really need help.

To Find Kimberly Kaplan: or Amazon Kindle ebook “A Parents’ Guide to Early Autism Intervention”
Twitter: @tipsautismmom

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