Why Autism Seems to Cluster in Some Immigrant Groups
Cultural barriers lead clinicians to misdiagnose or miss kids with the condition
Around 2 p.m. on a perfect summer afternoon in 2014, the clinicians arrived at Maki Gboro’s home in Denver, Colorado, to test his 18-month-old son Baraka for autism. The family had only recently moved to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo: Gboro came first, in 2009. His wife Odile Nabunyi arrived in 2013 with their two sons. They later had a third child, but at the time, Baraka was the youngest.
Gboro and Nabunyi sat on a sofa in the living room of their apartment and watched as the women from a community health clinic offered the toddler various objects. The women’s goal was to observe how Baraka would play with the objects—standard protocol for an autism evaluation. But the protocol seemed geared toward a child with a typical American upbringing. There was a pretend birthday cake, but Baraka had not yet been to an American birthday party. They gave him a plastic bag of Cheerios, the popular American breakfast cereal, but a typical breakfast in the Congo—and in Gboro’s household—is cheese, bread and milk, or sometimes porridge. And there was an African interpreter, too, but he spoke an unfamiliar French dialect and gave the boy instructions with words his parents never used. Sometimes, the clinicians spoke directly to Baraka in English, which he didn’t understand at all. Read more