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Navigating Neurodiversity

Dec/01/2023 / by team-seema

An autism diagnosis carries extra pressure among South Asians

Learning that your child has a diagnosis of autism may not only be met with despair, but sometimes also with denial. Instead of seeking treatment, many South Asians revert to a fix-it-at-home mentality. 

“At first, when your child gets a diagnosis, there’s a lot of anxiety and fear. It’s not uncommon for South Asian Americans to dismiss autism as a ‘white people thing’, a condition that Americans overblow,” says Tahira Benevelli, an Austin-based educational consultant who specializes in neurodiversity. 

Benevelli knows firsthand, as all three of her children have diagnoses that span the spectrum, including ADHD, sensory processing, autism, anxiety, and giftedness. “The pressures of the model minority myth dictate a very linear path of what success looks like for the South Asian American child,” she says. With such a narrow definition of success, a diagnosis that stands in the way of its realization will cause profound fear. Often, the trope is ‘my kid will never be normal.’

In the collectivist-minded South Asian community, the tendency is to see any difference as deficit, she says. But Benevelli has noticed this attitude slowly shifting, with more pride in diversity seeping through the status quo. Her suggestion to parents is to cultivate curiosity about autism, focusing on its gifts alongside its challenges. This enables a shift from a shame response to a strengths-based perspective. 

As parents move to acceptance, a willingness to implement supportive accommodations follows. For many kids, this may mean consistent routines and a structured environment. For others, it might entail sensory-friendly conditions and a variety of sensory tools, such as earplugs or preferential seating, to help them self-regulate. Benevelli discovered that sensitive, thoughtful accommodations were the key to her oldest son’s healthy self-esteem. “Accommodations allowed us to adapt the world to meet his needs, so that he was allowed to thrive.”

Stigma and the model minority

Asian Americans are 50 percent less likely than other racial groups to seek mental health services. In the schools, this disparity is even more stark. Up to 20 percent of public-school students are served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but only 7 percent of Asian Americans are, the lowest of any group. If you’re looking for extra cultural-based support, visit the SAAAC Autism Centre at saaac.org.

It’s showtime, Arusha

The girl who helped inspire the latest American Girl gets her due

American Girl made history this year by introducing Kavi Sharma as the Girl of the Year for 2023, the first South Asian American Girl Doll. But it’s Arusha Bhargava, a middle school student in New Jersey, who is the true show stealer. 

Bhargava made a significant contribution to Kavi’s backstory. She dedicated herself to shaping Kavi’s cultural background and identity and providing commentary and edits to the two books that accompany Kavi, a paperback journal and a hardcover novel titled “It’s Showtime, Kavi,” written by best-selling author Varsha Bajaj. 

Bhargava was recently honored by the Hillsborough Township Committee in New Jersey, issuing a townwide proclamation and congratulating Bhargava for her achievements and wishing her success in her future endeavors. Like Kavi, Arusha is an Indian American girl who takes classical Indian and Bollywood dance lessons. She was thrilled with the opportunity to help represent Indian culture and reflect the reality of what it’s like growing up in America with dual identities.

A Season for Giving

Make a difference this year and donate to one of these organizations fighting for justice

The holiday season is a time for joy, togetherness, and reflection on how we can spread more goodness in the world. Even small acts of kindness can uplift entire communities, and giving back to the organizations doing good in the world can be one way to do that. Here are a few of the organizations worth considering donating to this season: 

Human Rights Watch

A global nonprofit fighting for equality and justice for all, Human Rights watch advocates for the urgent crises impacting marginalized groups around the world. Donations enable them to give more voice to religious minorities, imprisoned activists, abused migrant workers or victimized women. donate.hrw.org

Doctors Without Borders

Heroically aiding vulnerable communities facing violence, disease, malnutrition and natural disasters, these medical teams work selflessly in over 70 countries, providing lifesaving emergency care. donate.doctorswithoutborders.org

Amnesty International

This Nobel Peace Prize winning global movement campaigns for international human rights. Their efforts include freeing unjustly imprisoned people, abolishing the death penalty, and battling discrimination against women, minorities, refugees and indigenous communities. amnestyusa.org World Animal Protection
This international welfare charity fights to end animal cruelty across the globe. Their major campaigns aim to end street dog culling, stop wildlife exploitation as tourist attractions, and improve farm animal welfare. With teams operating across Asia, a donation enables their boots-on-the-ground rescue and vaccination efforts for suffering street dogs and captive wildlife. worldanimalprotection.us

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