A Postcolonial Theory of Autism

Claire Decoteau, University of Illinois at Chicago

The science of autism remains contested, and yet the bulk of federal dollars is invested in genomic research and efforts at uncovering the biological bases of emergent autism phenotypes. And yet, the autism field is unique in the sense that parents have often been at the forefront of scientific initiatives – scientific development in autism etiology and treatment has grown out of parental involvement in scientific research. A group of Somali parents of children with autism in Toronto have begun to collaborate with researchers exploring links between autism causation and shifts in the microbiome. And yet, their investment in this area of research is fueled by their belief that autism is a uniquely “western” illness, caused by shifts in their gut bacteria due to migration, the overuse of antibiotics in North American food and health industries, as well as a reliance on genetically modified foods, pesticides, herbicides and antiseptics. This paper explores the ways in which Somali parents creatively engage with scientific evidence to highlight racial disparities in existing research. Somalis suggest that their vulnerability to autism stems from their racial exclusion, migration status and cultural practices. They redeploy Western scientific theories to offer us a postcolonial reading of autism.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 134. Mobilizing Scientific Knowledge in Epistemic Communities