Cultural differences and perceptions of autism among school psychologists



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Behavioral manifestations of autism are said to be exhibited across cultures and socioeconomic status with little variation. The majority of the epidemiology studies have not studied race, and have typically used Western definitions to conceptualize autism when studying other non-Western cultures. Autism does not have a known etiology that is biologically based so the diagnostic criteria and procedure for diagnosing autism is based upon subjective judgment. In the medical and educational community, autism remains a disorder that is not diagnosed evenly across cultures. Discrepancies exist among ethnicity groups in the diagnostic rate of autism in the health community and in the identification of autism among diverse cultural groups in special education. Understanding the factors that may be influential in impeding early identification and diagnosis of autism among certain cultures is important. Currently, factors that influence interpretation of autistic symptoms by school psychologists are not overall clear. The purpose of this study was to investigate factors that may influence the diagnostic decisions of school psychologists as they relate to identifying behavioral symptoms associated with autism in African American, Caucasian, and Hispanic boys of varying SES. Three hundred and eight school psychologists sampled from the general membership of the National Association of School Psychologists were utilized in the present study. The results are promising in that school psychologists appear able to accurately identify symptoms associated with autism regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic status. School psychologists are also able to recognize when patterns of behavior diverge from normal development; however, school psychologists were more likely to indicate the child?s problem was due to Child Abuse for a child from a low SES versus a high SES regardless of ethnicity. Furthermore, school psychologists were more likely to indicate the child?s presenting problem was due to Child Abuse for the Caucasian child and not likely for the Hispanic child. Likewise, the child?s socioeconomic status influenced school psychologists to more likely indicate the child?s presenting problems was due to Cultural Deprivation for the child from the low SES and least likely for the child from the high SES. SES by ethnicity interactions were not evident for any of the analysis. Thus, results indicate school psychologists may be influenced by factors beyond the behavioral presentation of autism. Consequently, this may explain the variation currently seen in the identification and diagnoses of autism by ethnicity. Explanation of results, implications for practice, and potential areas of future research are also discussed.