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Examining differences in autism diagnosis and treatment between China and the Western World

The differences between Chinese and Western understanding of mental illness are evident in many aspects of life, ranging from personal interactions to governmental policy. Take, for example, that the prevailing cultural belief in China is that giving birth to a child with autism is a sin and a repercussion. In the United States, the disorder is better understood through the biological and behavioral differences in people with autism. Whereas the Chinese government attempts to ignore the prevalence of mental illnesses and autism throughout the country, Western governments typically fund research to better understand the disorder. Of course, the Chinese ideas and practices are not supported by all individuals throughout China, but as Joy Ming explains, China currently has a more basic understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder. As America was in a quite similar state only a few decades ago, it is likely that with the right amount of community support and research, China can begin to move towards more thoroughly understanding autism and perhaps closing gaps between practices in China, the United States, and other similar countries. In this article, Ming explores the historical, cultural, and political factors that led toward the development of the current attitudes concerning Autism Spectrum Disorder in China.

Psychiatry was not formally practiced throughout China until 1947, falling over 100 years behind many Western countries that began investing in this practice in the 18th and 19th centuries. Even after 1947, the concept of mental health in China was rejected as it was thought to be a capitalistic idea. Culturally, certain perceptions about autism and mental illnesses are perpetuated through the system in which they are classified. The commonly used Diagnostics and Statistical Manual (DSM) is not used in China for diagnosis and treatment of mental illness as the country uses its’ own Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders (CCMD-3). This only emphasizes the differences between Chinese and Western psychiatry. For example, the CCMD-3 lists self-harm and impaired communication as major symptoms of ASD whereas the DSM focuses more on defining the behavioral deficits observed in people with autism. Finally, political forces throughout China actively ignore and provide little support for autism throughout the country. This results in the privatization of care for people with autism, creating an economic difficulty that makes it especially difficult for people with autism to transition into the broader community. Ming sees hope in opening up dialogue about autism to demand more political, economical, and research-based support to improve the situation for individuals living in China with autism.

This article did an excellent job in addressing all the factors that led to current disparities in diagnosis and care between China and other parts of the world. Ming thoroughly covers all aspects of the solution to the problem as well, acknowledging that it may be a slow process that is nevertheless worth it in the end. Furthermore, at the beginning of the article, Ming directly compares the lives of two boys with autism. As one boy lives in American and the other lives in China, the differences between their two lives is clear. This introduction provides a real-life, personal connection that effectively frames the arguments later in the article. While this paper still accurately details the differences in autistic care between the two countries, inclusion of this first section strengthened the relatability and importance of the article.

However, mentioning more detailed examples of the differences in the diagnosis and treatment of autism between the DSM and CCDM-3 would strengthen Ming’s argument. Readers would more deeply understand the deep-seated cultural differences and why there are disparities in treatment and diagnosis in the first place. As most psychiatric and medical professionals follow one of these manuals very closely, the information in them provides a direct and thorough explanation of how autism is viewed in these countries.

Looking towards future progress, it is important to recognize the significant role that the prevailing attitudes about autism can play in moving China to a more developed understanding of the disorder. By normalizing everyday conversation about the topic, it will be easier for activists to organize community resistance against the government’s ignorance of autism. This will lead towards improvements in the cultural and governmental problems causing a poor scientific understanding of autism in China. As the historical factors influencing the current approaches to autism are not so easily changeable, action to improve the future situation will best address the third aspect of autism understanding.

Article Reviewed:

Ming, J., & Li, V. (2012, April 1). Autism in China: A Biosocial Review. Retrieved November 

20, 2019, from

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