Shame in Town With World's Highest Rate of Children With Autism

autistic, aspergers
Highest rate of autism in the world leaves some parents feeling blind-sided and ashamed.

In a middle-class suburb outside of one of the world’s largest cities, researchers have discovered a population with the highest rate of autism on the planet. Some 2.64 percent of the children are somewhere on the autism spectrum. In the U.S. and Europe, that number is said to be around 1 percent.

But the researchers aren’t looking at what could be causing such a high rate. Rather they suspect that no other population has been so carefully scrutinized.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times about the autism study in Islan, a suburb of Seoul, South Korea, a number of families in this middle class town knew that something was different about their child. So getting a diagnosis was something of a confirmation. On the other hand, South Korea has long seen autism as a shameful disease — in its milder forms mothers are blamed for having been cold and unloving. The fact that there may be a genetic component to autism makes it even worse. So other families aren’t so happy with the diagnosis.

Autism isn’t something new to the population, the problem was only the most severe cases were being diagnosed. Then Dr. Young Shin Kim, a Yale psychiatrist who led the groundbreaking six-year autism study, came to town. Over time, more and more kids were diagnosed of a condition some participating families had no idea even existed.

Researchers sent out questionnaires to the more than 55,000 participants between 7 and 12. Of those, they interviewed 286. Of those interviewed, 201 were diagnosed with autism.

But the research stopped there and families were left to deal with the diagnosis alone and in a culture whose view of autism was much like that of the U.S. several decades ago.

Attitudes are slowly changing, the Times reports: 

Still, there are signs of change. A rock star, Kim Tae-won, recently announced that his son had autism, some family support groups have started up and a 2005 Korean movie about an autistic man who runs a marathon remains popular.

Photo: watchsmart via flickr

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