Global Perceptions of Autism: Iran’s Cultural Understanding

When asked about autism in foreign countries, most people assume that autism is less prevalent in underdeveloped countries than in Western ones due to the lack of data available for developing countries. Furthermore, The cultural differences in these underdeveloped countries often cause a divide between countries on the view of autistic children. Iran, a developing country with a majority muslim population and often strict traditional views, is a good example of how differences in culture can affect the outlook on autism. Many countries like Iran lack widespread autism care. Although there are treatment centers in Iran, they are skewed towards more affluent families and rely on parental spending.

In Samadi et al.(a study in Iran) researchers studied five-year-old children who were suspected of having autism. The results concluded that 6.26 out of 10000 were diagnosed with autism in Iran. This is the same as many other countries but lower than many developed countries. In underdeveloped countries and specifically Iran in this case, autism and other spectrum disorders are more likely to be seen as stigmatized. Therefore, the parents often want their children to attend “ordinary” schools to avoid being labeled as special need. This is a major difference from Western countries where parents want their children’s difficulties to be assessed because they can obtain funding and additional services. In Iraq however, these are not readily available, causing a disconnect between the two countries. Another reason autism seems to be less prevalent is that mortality rates of severely affected children is higher in poor areas of Iran than in poor areas in more developed countries.

Furthermore, children affected with comorbid problems such as epilepsy are more likely to be removed from the school system early thus removing them from the screening process in Iran. This screening process is undertaken by the Special Education Organization where schools screen 5-year-old children for ASD before they enter school. In more developed countries, a majority of people believe autism to stem from genetics such as in Canada(90%). In Iran however, cultural differences led to some believing that autism was caused by unrequited sins or spiritual/religious influences which were non-factors in developed countries. Another difference is that in Iran, the main source of information parents obtain about the disorder get it from other parents who have children with autism. However, in highly developed countries such as the US, most people find out from research via books and websites. Interestingly, parents of affected children in Iran have higher stress scores-using the Parental stress Index– in regards to parenting girls compared to boys while in developed countries, the stress levels are the same. This is because in Iranian culture, girls are often traditionally seen as more fragile. However, Iranians displayed more willingness to care fully for their children which could be due to the majority of Muslim-influenced thought in Iran. In muslim belief, Allah(God) orders parents to take care of their children and thus many see it as a test from God to take care of them sufficiently.

All in all, Iran is a great example to observe how culture and school structure can cause differences in underdeveloped countries compared to more developed ones. Although some of these characteristics may be unique to Iran, the premise of discrepancies between how countries view autism around the world is universal.



  1. As I was reading this post, I was struck by both the similarities and differences between parents’ reactions to their children’s autism in the US as compared to Iran. For example, it seems as though in both countries, raising a child with autism comes with a lot of stress, but also a sense of care and protection from the parents. While this may be for different reasons in the two countries, it still seems as though all parents react in similar ways to autism diagnoses for their children. I was also a bit surprised by the screening process for children in Iran, as I don’t think we have a program like that in the US. It is very impressive to me that this screening process is done so early on in the school system, so that children and their families can begin thinking about what they want to do in terms of future directions after the diagnosis as soon as possible.

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