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Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Dr. Barbara J. Myers


Cultural beliefs and practices affect factors associated with early diagnosis of developmental disorders, parents' understanding of the disorder, beliefs about causes, and choice of treatment procedures. Currently, most research regarding autism emanates from Western cultural perspectives. However, the notion that treatment methods are universal and that they can simply be developed in the West and exported elsewhere is inherently flawed. The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the experience of parents from India now living in the US or other countries outside India who have a child with an autism spectrum disorder, and explore the unique contributions of the Indian culture in parents' understanding and acceptance of a childhood disability like autism. Specific cross-cultural variables measured in the study included what symptoms the parents first recognized in their child, parents' beliefs about causes, choice of treatment procedures, roles of grandparents in the child's life, availability of community resources, parent-professional interactions, and acculturation. Twenty seven parents of children with autism (24 mothers, 3 fathers) participated in the study; all but 3 of them now lived outside India. All 27 participants and their spouses were Indian in ethnicity and were born and raised in India. Most parents endorsed the western beliefs in a combination of genetics, environmental toxins, and biological factors; a substantial number also endorsed a belief that immunizations were a direct cause. A significant minority of our parents also called upon traditional Indian beliefs in karma, destiny or fate, and parental mistakes in present or past life. Most of these parents were far from their own parents and in-laws and thus removed from the high level of grandparental involvement that would be typical if they had stayed at home; however, despite the long distance separating them, a majority of the families consider their parents and in-laws as important sources of emotional support. Although a majority of parents reported that they currently do not use any treatment that came from their Indian culture, about half reported that they would prefer to use a combination of both western and Indian medicine and educational practices, if it is made available. A majority of parents in the study appear to be well integrated with their host culture. These parents have become bicultural by maintaining characteristics of their own natal culture, while selectively acquiring those of their host culture.


Part of Retrospective ETD Collection, restricted to VCU only.


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VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008