SAP: South Asian parents of children with autism often face social stigma in their family or wider community. What is a good way for parents to deal with that?
Because of the whole spiritual aspect of South Asian culture, I usually talk to parents about accepting what God has given them, and to see the light in that, see the reason in that, and cope with it with that strength. But they do need to have that spiritual background. And if not, I insist to the parents, be they educated or not, financially have the resources or not, to educate themselves to be able to understand. That’s the most important thing. In order to accept it, they need to educate themselves.
SAP: As a South Asian friend or family member of someone with an autistic child, what are some things one might do to help the family?
I think the first thing would be to accept the whole family, the family that has a child with autism, to accept the family as a whole unit and not accept some people out of that unit and not the child with autism. And by accepting I mean doing little things like inviting them over for a social get together, but then making sure that it’s not too overwhelming for that child. Also trying to talk to the parents beforehand and arranging some things for the child so that he would be more comfortable, like having less noise, having maybe a room where he could spend some time alone if he needed to, or checking on what kind of food he would prefer to eat—just showing the parents that they really care and going that extra mile to make it comfortable for that child.
The other thing they can do is actually expose their own children to this child, and explain what it is to have autism and how best to accept that child.
SAP: Is autism something all parents should discuss with their children, regardless of whether or not someone in the family has autism?
I feel very strongly about autism so I would say yes, but I don’t know whether it’s practical for parents to talk to their children about every disability in the world. But if any time they come across the subject, I would say the parents should take the opportunity to talk about it if they are aware of it, or sit with their child and try to find out about it.
SAP: Does the mother of an autistic child play a different role in his/her life than the father?
Yes, there’s a huge difference. And it’s not specific to one culture, strangely. It’s across all cultures. In 90 percent of the cases I see the mother taking up the entire load. It seems like the fathers have a lot more trouble with accepting and dealing with the child with autism. They seem to spend more time at work, and that seems to be the way they think they are providing for the family. It’s sort of different ways of staying away from the child rather than staying with their child—removing themselves from the situation.
Any child, whether he has autism or not, is going to benefit from equal amount of interaction from both the parents, and if he’s losing out on one, it’s certainly going to be a loss for him.