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Department of Anthropology Distinguished Scholar Lecture – Culture and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Current Challenges and Opportunities in Identification and Care

March 7, 2017 @ 4:15 pm - 6:00 pm

Roy Richard Grinker, Ph.D.
Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs
Director, GWU Institute for African Studies
Director, GWU Institute for Ethnographic Research

Constructivist approaches to health and illness do not deny that underlying biological condition produce particular behaviors, cognitive challenges and skills, and suffering. Rather they acknowledge that science builds models of behavior that are historically contingent, culturally constituted, and, like Asperger’s Disorder, sometimes temporary. In discussing science as a cultural formation that promotes and constrains scientific and popular definitions of ASD, this presentation highlights the role of culture in identification and treatment, and more generally at the intersection of scientific and local knowledge.

Data gathered in Southern Africa, South Korea, and among minority communities in the eastern United States will be discussed in relation to three questions:

  1. What does it mean to say that a phenomenon is “cultural?” 

  2. What are the cross-cultural commonalities and differences in how the constellation of features scientists call autism is defined and treated?
  3. What kinds of cross-cultural research methods can yield information relevant to improving early detection and intervention?

In these very different settings, ASD is arguably under-diagnosed and under-reported. The presentation will discuss the processes used to engage diverse communities in ASD research in the context of an epidemiological investigation of 7-12 year olds in South Korea, and the Early Autism Project, an ASD detection program for 18-36 month old Zulu-speaking children in South Africa. In South Korea and South Africa, local knowledge helped researchers to address ethnographic as well as practical problems. Researchers incorporated that knowledge as they engaged communities in a research protocol, adapted and translated screening and diagnostic tools, and developed methods for screening and evaluating children with ASD.


March 7, 2017
4:15 pm - 6:00 pm
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