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Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are missing out on essential support for people affected by autism, according to the National Autistic Society (NAS).

In a new report, the charity says that language and cultural differences can create additional barriers to accessing a diagnosis and support.

For the Diverse Perspectives report, the NAS conducted 13 focus groups across England involving around 130 parents and carers of children with autism from BAME communities. Participants were asked about their needs and experiences and encouraged to consider the role that ethnicity, faith and religious beliefs, gender and language could play in this.

The findings suggest that levels of understanding of both autism and traditional child development can be lower in some communities than in the wider population. Teachers can also fail to spot characteristics of autism due to incorrect assumptions about a child’s behaviour or language abilities.

Barriers to accessing support services were identified, with parents reporting challenges understanding autism and knowing what services are available due to poor availability of information in languages other than English and professionals’ use of jargon. A number of families said they were not confident in dealing with professionals.

Participants also reported that some people from BAME communities could hold unnecessarily suspicious attitudes towards professionals and authorities. Many participants also said they had encountered hostile or judgemental attitudes, and that disability is stigmatised in certain communities where it is seen as unnatural and sometimes blamed on parents. In some cases, families were said to deny or refuse to believe that their child had autism, while others believed that their difficulties should remain private and not be discussed outside the home. 

Dr Laura Cockburn of the NAS Lorna Wing Centre, called on professionals to understand the impact that culture and language can have on autism screening, assessment and intervention. “If we are to improve the lives of BAME families dealing with what can initially be a devastating diagnosis, it’s vital that decision makers, service providers and faith and community groups listen to those families and work together to produce effective, culturally appropriate support”, she said.

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