According to a recent study, the prevalence of autism amongst children in South Korea is estimated to be 2.64% of the population of school age children. This can be defined as a high figure from a medical-social perspective, where the highest rates have been in the US were the statistics are usually cited as 1.8% of school aged children. Although medically recognised in South Korea, the reality is that parents can feel a degree of shame if their child were to be “labeled” autistic and consequently many parents do not accept or recognise the fact that their child is affected by symptoms that are equated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
After an Autism diagnosis held in South Korea, Korean, Canadian and American psychiatrists and researchers discovered the highest rate of autism ever measured in a population in the suburb of Seoul. The 23,337 children reviewed were between the age group of 7-12. These children were first screened, and their parents and teachers were requested to answer questionnaires regarding the child’s behaviour, academics and his/her social interactions and general conduct. After filtering the questionnaires, researchers zeroed in on the reports of 286 children that showed potential symptoms of Autism. At the end of the research, 201 children were diagnosed with different forms of Autism, a frequency rate of approximately one child per 38 children.
It has also been determined that two thirds of all the children diagnosed with the disorder attend regular school and regular classes despite academic difficulties. To date, there has not been a recognized study or research regarding autism rates in North Korea, and thus their verified figures for the Korean population at large remains unknown.
The majority of South Korean parents have not received the diagnoses well, and many have denied the prevalence of autism in their children. Psychological and behavioural disorders, such as autism are feared by Koreans, and thus, while some citizens accepted the diagnosis of their children with resignation and acknowledged the need for their child’s admission in special school and cares, others declined the reports.
This study suggests that even today, autism is an under reported, under diagnosed disorder whose symptoms are often neglected, though not inconspicuous, and continues to be unacknowledged, especially in Asian countries, such as South Korea. Dr. Winston Chung, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth expressed that these initial finding, while rigorous, must be considered in the light of western versus eastern cultures. For example lack of eye contact which is an indicator of autism in the west could be mistaken when observed in eastern cultures where such behaviour is encouraged.
The stigma of autism in the Korean culture goes beyond geographical boundaries. Earlier this year an outreach project focused in a largely Korean community of Flushing, New York discovered that many Koreans found . In April, literature on autism was translated and local Korean news media were contacted in an attempt to provide further awareness of autism to the community. Some residents expressed concerns that focusing of one ethic group only reenforced stereo types.
Geoff Dodson is talented and published writer of creative fiction and non-fiction. He gained effective research skills gained from his university studies in West Australia. Geoff is the parent of a teenage boy with autism.