7. avr., 2017

Autisme et interculturalité (suite) - débat sur researchgate.net

Terhi vuojala-magga · 11.32 · Hammastunturi Reindeer Herders´ Co-operative
Thank you for inviting me to this discussion. As an academic, I know very little about autism, but I can widen up this issue from the perspective of practical societies of the reindeer herders, fishermen and hunters of Finnish Lapland - shortly from the approach of praxis. We live in an area of low density of population, only 0, 5 person per sqkm. Partly because of this and the practical nature of livelihood people are tied to the kinship system and they have a strong individualism in their doings. This means that a person with different ways of communicating, behaving or thinking are tolerated and accepted in their communities - as long as they find their practical role in the society (naturally there is also help in guiding them in praxis). This means i.e. that they can be good uncles/aunties, skilful people with maintaining machinery or fishermen etc. Shortly, people do not ask what “the problem with him” is but they accept this person as a normal member of a practical society (as long as they do not harm anyone). In the traditional world there has not been diagnostic for autism or mental problems, simply people just talk that "this person suffers from sadness every spring and autumn" (western: manic depressive). Naturally, today people know diagnostics of all kind and there are therapies etc. And that is fine with people, too. However, I believe that still in those families of subsistence of economies the family members and kins will accept their members as they are, even there are “the various personal" ways of acting and behaving.
  • We, researchers, are all aiming to general laws but it may be dangerous to jump too quickly and too comfortably to the universal, especially in the realm of human sciences.

    I do not want to exaggerate the division between East and West. We are all brothers on this earth, but to that extent, we have to know and appreciate, and study without fear and prejudices all the differences between us. It has been said that the Muslim culture is another planet on this planet, and this is even truer in the Far East, - which I call the "Far East dimension".

    I do not deny that severe or extreme cases of autism are quite similar in all societies.

    However, having lived a very long time among Japanese people (but this could apply to other cultures as well, Asian or not), I have noticed that normal and ordinary abilities in the frame of this culture could be seen as extraordinary and abnormal in the West, especially in Latin or sometimes Southern cultures :

    1) to stay silent during a very long period of time, while being fully awakened to what is happening around in the environment.

    2) To stay still and calm during a very long time with great ease, without being in bad moods, or ill.

    3) To stay inward looking during a very long time, while keeping a kind of magnetic relation with other beings around them, without any need of eye contacts, and with no words, or few words ...

    4) To be able to listen, to observe, to concentrate and to think, or to perform when necessary very sharply, in the above conditions and circumstances.

    To cut a long story short, the brain, brain waves, and the nervous system seem to function in quite different ways. This is happening in children as well as in grown ups. More researches are urgently needed in this field. My hypothesis is that what can be called the "principle of individuation", or the "principle of individualization", that is to say the complex knot between all our abilities and functions, in relation to the environment, and other beings, may be very different in very far cultures. Generally speaking, according to the World Health Organization, I understand all psychiatric definitions apply anywhere on the globe. This may be true and wise to some extent. But this may be also only convenient and perhaps much less scientific than it seems.


All Answers (39)

    It is a growing base of research that point to the working of it (Rocque, 2010), and the existence of neurodiversity movements also picture it. But the different uses of the medical label of autism spectrum disorders are not without conflict, and together with the different understandings of autism spectrum disorder it makes up a complex field of study with both cultural and political dimensions in addition to the scientifical dimensions.

    In addition is a medical label of autism spectrum disorder voluntary in many countries, meaning the person himself or the parents of the person are responsible for the label. In this way the border between the diagnosis as a tool by the state and as a tool of identity may sometimes be unclear.

    Rocque, B. (2010). Science Fictions: Figuring Autism as Threat and Mystery in Medico-Therapeutic Literature. Disability Studies Quarterly 30(1).
    An autistic child in a given culture is most likely to considered autistic in all societies with different culture as the interactive anomaly will be noticed the same by all human.The other interesting question can be turned in the following way: do some cultural changes affect the rate of autism among infant population living in societies that are going rapid social and cultural modifications? From my experience of observing Palestinian infants and children i strongly believe YES. I do think that massive introduction of screens(TV PC....) early in infancy do create autism spectrum disorders that some but not all can be reversible to some extent. I think that some animal data and few studies in newborns can be reviewed.The major key to give an interpretation to this is the excessive changes imposed in the normal circadian rhythm in the first 2 years of life. This pathway i think is interesting to explore and might give new insights between cultural (environmental) and natural =genetic susceptibility.
    May I add a new element. A new article about this topic has recently been published - I believe it is in the famous Journal Nature.
    I have not yet read it, but it seems to me very important : it is about the role and function of "gaze" in autism.
    And "gaze" is precisely very relative, very dependent on cultures, since indirect gaze, indirect sight can be a value there, and a no value elsewhere.
    A child can be unable to focus, and nevertheless, may have a powerful hearing, and a high sensibility.
    All the five senses are obviously based on touch. Some cultures, like the contemporary Western one may particularly emphasize sight, against hearing. Direct sight, "gaze" is not necessarily a good thing, or blessing ...
    Some cultures believe that to "look around" things and persons is more powerful, or more polite.
    Besides, there is what the great Hungarian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Laban was calling "the sixth sense", the sense of dynamic space, of "pure movement" in the space-time continuum, which can be studied at the lowest step of living species, species living, so to speak, "in the dark", and this step is obviously still working inside us, mankind, the so called higher, or highest specie ...
    Anthony G Gordon · 64.99 · Independent Researcher
    "All the five senses are obviously based on touch"

    Evidence for this? If there is a more basic sense, I think it is the vestibular system in the inner ear. It develops very early in development, provides a sense of body image and spatial structure, and may organize some of the other senses (and the autonomic nervous system). Several people have labelled the vestibular as the sixth sense.
    Where does nutrition fit in with the autism spectrum?

    There is a growing number of people (very easily googleable) who have successfully adressed what is called autism by eliminating grain and other sugars - and such things as processed food and additives - following for example the lead of neurologist Campbell-McBride (http://www.gaps.me/ ), but the gut flora to brain connection is of course nothing new: “The primary seat of insanity generally is in the region of the stomach and intestines" - Phillipe Pinel (1745–1828) or if you want to dig deeper: “All diseases begin in the gut" - Hippocrates (460-370 BC).

    Is it perhaps more important to define categories of symptoms - so that they can be targeted by drugs - than it is to deal with causes? Especially if the problem can be resolved simply by eliminating neolithic/industrial food?

    In other words, does the way in which autism is treated say more about the surrounding culture than it does about the suffering children? Indeed, is autism perhaps rather a symptom of the surrounding culture than an individual child's psyche or physique?
    In a quick search on Google Scholar for "cross-cultural autism", out of the top 10 results, I found four cross-cultural studies, two calls for more research, and four irrelevant results. Three of the cross-cultural studies were by the first author Akio Wakabayashi (Wakabayashi, Baron-Cohen, Uchiyama, Yoshida, Kuroda, & Wheelwright, 2007; Wakabayashi, Baron-Cohen, Uchiyama, Yoshida, Tojo, Kuroda, & Wheelwright, 2007; Wakabayashi, Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, & Tojo, 2006) using data collected in Japan from participants on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. The other (Bölte, Poustka, & Constantino, 2008) used data collected in Germany from participants that ranged more on the spectrum than in the Japanese studies. All four studies found similarities between their samples and previous research using Anglo & North American samples. However, evidence from cultures in developing economies and non-industrial countries seems to be lacking.

    Certainly, severe autism is going to be cross-culturally relevant, but what about high-functioning autism? What about traditional cultures? The questions that everyone here seems to be asking don't seem to have been well-addressed yet in the literature.


    Bölte, S., Poustka, F., & Constantino, J. N. (2008). Assessing autistic traits: cross-cultural validation of the social responsiveness scale (SRS). Autism Research, 1(6), 354–363. doi:10.1002/aur.49

    Wakabayashi, A., Baron-Cohen, S., Uchiyama, T., Yoshida, Y., Kuroda, M., & Wheelwright, S. (2007). Empathizing and systemizing in adults with and without autism spectrum conditions: Cross-cultural stability. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(10), 1823–1832. doi:10.1007/s10803-006-0316-6

    Wakabayashi, A., Baron-Cohen, S., Uchiyama, T., Yoshida, Y., Tojo, Y., Kuroda, M., & Wheelwright, S. (2007). The autism-spectrum quotient (AQ) children’s version in Japan: A cross-cultural comparison. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(3), 491–500. doi:10.1007/s10803-006-0181-3

    Wakabayashi, A., Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., & Tojo, Y. (2006). The Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) in Japan: A cross-cultural comparison. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(2), 263–270. doi:10.1007/s10803-005-0061-2
    To study autism in the different cultures through a single language may pose problems, and I wonder what a study in japanese by researchers with japanese as the mother tongue only would have concluded with. When reading about the Wakabayashi study it also makes me wonder to which extent Baron-Cohen's view on autism may have affected the conclusions of it. So what can be said about the cross-cultural features of autism when the tools used to study it are global and standarized, not respecting the indigenous of it?

    Another question, directly relevant to the possible bias in research, is the question of what autism is. Today it exist many different uses and understandings of autism, and what may be studied in one cross-cultural context may represent an autism which does not fit with another cross-cultural study.