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Surprising Prevelance of Autism in South Korea

AAA member, Roy Richard Grinker is making global headlines as senior author for a study unveiled this week on autism. The study, a collaborative effort by Yale Child Study Center and George Washington University and to be featured in The American Journal of Psychiatry, sought to gauge the rate of childhood autism in a middle-class city in South Korea. The rate within the community studied indicated that 2.6 percent of all children aged 7-12 years old were diagnosed with autism.

“South Korea was chosen not only because autism prevalence had not been measured there, but also because its national health care system, universal education and homogeneous population made it a promising region for a planned series of studies that will also look at genetic and environmental factors in autism,” said New York Times reporter, Claudia Wallis.

CNN reported Grinker’s response to the study as surprising but not alarming. Grinker believes the study’s estimate reveal that “autism is more common than we think it is.”

Nature.com interviewed Dr. Grinker on their news blog to gain an insight on the study. Aside from discussing the take home message of the study, blogger Meredith Wadman asks:

It seems that by definition, if you were largely in schools that are not for special needs or intellectually impaired kids, that you must have been discovering milder cases on the autism spectrum. Wouldn’t it be hard for a profoundly affected child to pass in a mainstream school?
In the US we are so sensitized to picking up special needs and providing services. But not every country in the world does that. Depending on the state, 10-15% of American kids are getting some special education services. That number is less than 1% in South Korea. So of course you are going to find those kids in mainstream school environments. Sixteen percent of the kids that were in the mainstream schools that we diagnosed had some degree of mental retardation. Also there were certainly children that I saw in schools that had significant impairments. But South Korea has a pretty strong mandate for inclusion, legally. They have laws in place for inclusion. Unfortunately that inclusion does not come along with a lot of services. Some kids can get by and adapt to the situation.

Visit the links below for additional details of this study and media coverage:
Autism Speaks
CNN
Nature.com
NBC Today Show
National Public Radio
New York Times

Looking for more information on autism? Check out the Ethos issue on Rethinking Autism, Rethinking Anthropology.

Are you an AAA making headlines? Let us know! We feature newsmakers on the AAA Members in the News webpage.

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