Sunday, January 07, 2007

Anthropologist Casts Light on Austim Views Around the World

Roy Richard Grinker arrives at his research into autism from two vantage points: first as the father of 15-year-old Isabel, who has autism. Second, from his background as an anthropologist and professor at George Washington University. And what he tells U.S. News and World Report is that the society into which an autistic child is born influences greatly whether the child will be diagnosed and have access to important services.

Grinker explains to U.S. News some of the social scientific research he has done for his new book Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism (Basic Books). You can read the magazine interview from the January 15 issue, by clicking here.

Grinker says he found stories of desperate circumstances, such as families in South Korea who hide children and keep them hidden from neighbors, afraid that an autism diagnosis will affect the whole family's future, such as the marriage prospects of siblings, and the market value of their apartments. He also found families in India who educated themselves, became experts and found ways to help their kids make progress. (Other travels took him to Africa, Appalachia and the National Institutes of Mental Health, according to the book blurb quoted on

These research experiences inform Grinker's view that countries like the United States are doing a better job counting autism cases, and so the numbers of diagnoses are rising; it's as if our society's rising ability to confront developmental disabilities has brought on the labeling of more cases.

Grinker's own child is doing well based on his comments -- she played the cello recently in a recent high school concert, for example -- and his latest research appears to have given him some personal solace. He tells the magazine:
There are some people who would say that the use of the term autistic to refer to such a wide range of people impoverishes the term. But speaking as a father, the expansion of the term is wonderful, because my daughter is not treated as an alien who should be institutionalized. If you go to India or South Korea and see how many people with autism are hidden away, you see how far we've come.
Professor Grinker's web page at George Washington University he recently received a $120,000 grant from the National Alliance for Autism Research (now part of Autism Speaks) to conduct the first ever epidemiological study of autism in Korea.


Maddy said...

You're just trying to add to my ever increasing heap of books on the nightstand aren't you!
However, I like anthropological accounts [Sapolsky] so I may have to splash out [again]

Unknown said...

Prof. Grinker has a website on Unstrange Minds that is entitled and contains an excerpt of his book (which is a fine read, nicely integrating memoir with his research), information about figures like Kanner and Asperger and about India and Korea, and much more.

kristina said...

PS, wanted to send my greetings as an autism parent down here in NJ (I'm the kristina in the previous comment; am unable to get my blogger profile to pull up from that username).

Kristina Chew

Michael Goldberg said...

Thanks for that very helpful link!