Autism Spectrum Disorder in Rural India

Neurological and mental conditions are still considered a taboo in India. The larger part of the Indian population still lives in villages, where knowledge and awareness about autism spectrum disorder is very limited. Autism, in rural India, is often easily mistaken as some other condition.

Autism largely remains undiagnosed in rural India. Individuals living in the villages, at one level, are usually absorbed in the local community life, working on the land, and at home. While diagnosis of autism is extremely important, accessible services should also be there in place. Diagnosing a child and then saying, sorry we can’t do anything, is devastating for the family.

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Intervention and diagnosis of autism requires a lot of accuracy. But in urban and more in rural India, the myths associated with autism simply refuse to go. People who are able to read English and have access to the internet, gather lots of information on autism. Such information can be both relevant and irrelevant and doesn’t always translate to a better understanding of the condition.

According to a recent study conducted in some parts of rural Maharashtra, the perspectives of parents usually differ from the traditional and professional ones, to moral, spiritual and even personal interpretations.

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Parents in India recognize autism symptoms six to 10 months later than families in the West. Potential reasons for the extra time includes untenable cultural beliefs like “boys speak late,” which on the contrary, are often the first indications of unusual behavior. Parents often take their children to local quacks who determine that a nerve could be chocked somewhere leading to delayed speech. Spurious medicine is given to the child. Worse still, a baba (godman) may say that there’s nothing wrong with the child, but a shraap (curse) which can be cured by some mumbo-jumbo.

Some of the most common speculations in rural India when a child behaves differently include exposure to a “spastic” relative, and more importantly, something wrong in the mother.

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