Author: Maya McCune
Earth is an incredibly diverse place that is lush with various cultures, languages, and values. I was once told that diversity was what made the world go round. To this day, I still believe this is true. However, as with any discrepancies between individuals or communities, differences in thinking are inevitable. With differences in thinking, come differences in the way we aid and perceive others.
Culture-Bound Syndrome is the term used to describe these differences amongst cultures in how people interpret mental and developmental disorder symptoms. As a lab, we took a closer look at the ways in which autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is misunderstood because of differing cultural customs around the globe.
In Western cultures, eye contact is often so intrinsically ingrained into our societal norms that most Westerners do not think twice over it. However, for many neurodivergent individuals, naturally adhering to this norm can be quite a challenge. Consequently, “masking” is considered a common compensatory strategy for neurodivergent individuals. Masking is a way for neurodiverse individuals to conceal their neurodivergent traits to fit in with what is deemed “societally acceptable.”
Given that we know neurodivergence is found throughout the globe, it raises the question, “How might the definitions of normal behavior and abnormal behavior differ around the globe?”
The article, “How Cultural Differences Affect Autism Diagnoses” , provided by our intern Maggie, explains that while eye-contact is encouraged in children of European-American Families, it is not considered a universal sign of respect. As such, irregularities in maintaining eye-contact are not seen as a symptom of autism spectrum disorder in different cultures. For example, children in southern Egypt are classified as “shy” when averting their gaze in the face of authoritative figures.
Taking these findings into consideration, we proposed a variety of ways to combat the challenges that cultural differences may present within our lab. Alongside acknowledging and becoming more aware of cultural differences, we discussed the possibility of dissecting our laboratory tasks for cultural significance. In other words, asking ourselves if a task is appropriate and applicable outside of our own culture. Additionally, we discussed measuring cultural background by asking questions like, “What is your first language?” and “How many years have you lived in the United States?” In doing so, we can create a more personalized experience for lab participants that will aid in establishing a more inclusive community and improving the applicability of our research.