Autism in the Chinese-British Community: let’s break the silence now

Autism in the chinese-British Community

Having studied Traditional Chinese Medicine since 2003, I have developed a deep appreciation of the oriental approach to healthcare and over the last 20 years I have been able to very successfully help people who had ‘given up’ on conventional western medicine. Yet now I find myself in a position to hopefully help the Chinese community in return.  Over the last five years since qualifying in Functional Medicine, I have increasingly found myself using functional medicine for autism so I seem to be uniquely placed to address many of the challenges presented by autism in the Chinese-British community.

Autism affects thousands of people across the UK, yet it remains a taboo topic in many cultural communities, including the Chinese-British community. The silence surrounding autism can be deafening, leading to feelings of isolation, stigma, and shame for families affected by the condition. In the Chinese-British community, where family values and social harmony are deeply ingrained, autism can be a particularly sensitive subject. However, it is only by breaking down the barriers of silence and misconception that we can begin to build a more supportive and inclusive environment for individuals with autism and their families.

In this blog post, I hope to draw your attention to the unique challenges and experiences of autism in the Chinese-British community based on conversations and presentations I have had from the Chinese in Wales Association and I will also look at some of the positive shifts I am seeing in projects such as the Find Me Project funded by the National Lottery and the Allow Me Project that was supported by BBC Children in Need.

The stigma of autism in the Chinese-British community

In the Chinese-British community, autism is often shrouded in secrecy and misconception. The stigma surrounding autism is deeply rooted in cultural values and beliefs, where having a child with a disability is often seen as a reflection of poor parenting or a lack of good fortune. The concept of “saving face” is highly valued in Chinese culture, and having a child with autism is perceived as a loss of face, leading to feelings of shame and guilt. As a result, many families choose to hide their child’s diagnosis, fearing social ostracism and judgment from their community.

This stigma is further exacerbated by the lack of awareness and understanding of autism, with many viewing it as a result of poor parenting or a lack of discipline and it is even widely believed to be contagious! At an Autism Awareness event run by Chinese in Wales Association in the Sennedd, I was told that there are some 75,000 Chinese families affected by autism in the UK who often feel isolated, unsupported and judged in their struggles to care for their child.

Breaking down barriers: Understanding autism in the Chinese-British context

In the Chinese-British community, autism is often shrouded in silence and stigma. Cultural and linguistic barriers can prevent individuals from seeking help, and a lack of understanding about the condition can lead to feelings of shame and isolation. Indeed in China, there is no national framework for supporting families with any neurodivergence or disability, so they are often socially and economically isolated.

By acknowledging the importance of family honor, the role of traditional beliefs, and the impact of language barriers on access to services, we can develop more effective strategies for supporting individuals with autism and their families. By working together to break down these barriers, we can create a brighter future for individuals with autism in the Chinese-British community.

Success stories: Initiatives and projects making a difference

In the midst of the challenges and misconceptions surrounding autism in the Chinese-British community, there are beacons of hope and inspiration. Across the UK, a growing number of initiatives and projects are breaking down barriers and paving the way for greater understanding, acceptance, and support. From innovative educational programs to cultural exchange projects, these success stories demonstrate the power of community-led efforts to create positive change.

In London’s Chinatown, a pioneering autism support group has brought together families and caregivers to share experiences, provide emotional support, and access vital resources. Meanwhile, a Birmingham-based charity has developed a culturally-sensitive autism awareness campaign, featuring powerful testimonials from Chinese-British individuals on the autism spectrum. These initiatives, and many others like them, are helping to shatter the silence and stigma surrounding autism, empowering families and individuals to thrive and reach their full potential. 

The Chinese In Wales Association has received National Lottery funding for the Find Me Project which supports families across the UK who are ‘hiding away’ behind closed doors.  It helps them to become ‘found’, identified and to have a voice.

The Allow Me Project in Wales is about supporting children and helping to bring the best out in them, even if they have been raised in an environment of being ‘hidden away’.  

Building a more inclusive future: What can we do to help?

As we strive to break the silence surrounding autism in the Chinese-British community, it’s essential to recognize that creating a more inclusive future requires a collective effort. The first step is to work together to dismantle the cultural and societal barriers that have contributed to the marginalization of individuals with autism. My role as a healthcare professional is to help parents to improve the physical and mental health of their autistic children, and themselves, using personalized nutrition and lifestyle plan backed by science-based functional medicine for autism programme. You can find out more about my D.A.R.I.N.G.Approach to Heathcare in this video.

However, there are also many things that we, as a wider society, can do to help and support these families.

  • We can support charities such as the Chinese In Wales Association that amplify the voices of autistic individuals and their families.
  • Advocate for inclusive services that support cultural diversity, neurodiversity and increased awareness and understanding.
  • Take an interest in cultural diversity by attending events such as Chinese Cultural Heritage Day in St Fagans Museum of Natural History on Saturday 8 June 2024. Here you will learn about both Chinese art and culture as well as Welsh history and culture.
  • Remember that one of the most fun ways to learn about another culture is to explore their food! We all know about Chinese take-aways in the UK, but how many of us have attended a Chinese Tea Ceremony and witnessed the grace and elegance of this ritual? Food and drink have way of transcending any linguistic barriers and is a great place to start your journey of awareness and acceptance.

A final word from Simone

Being of mixed-race heritage, I beleive the first step in accomodating the acceptance of autism in the Chinese-British community is to increase awareness and understanding of our two cultures in a way that nurtures trust and co-operation. The UK is becoming one of the most advanced nations to recognize neurodiverstity, putting it in a very good position to raise awareness, understanding and acceptance of autism across all communities in this diverse nation. Together we can eradicate the unwarranted stigma that is damaging so many families and children, but divided we will all lose out.

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