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Autistic and Asian: How Culture Affects People with Autism

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My guest this week on Women’s Radio Station ‘All things Autism’ is Reena Anand. Reena shares her story. 

Reena is a mother of two boys aged 3 and 6, the eldest of whom is autistic. While convalescing following an operation last year, she started writing about her experience as an autism parent and the stigma surrounding autism in the Asian community. Her articles have been read internationally by thousands of people with readers reaching out to Reena both for support and in gratitude for openly and proudly talking about her autism experience.
By day, Reena is an ombudsman and strives to make a difference not only through her work but by coaching colleagues who have received an autism diagnosis navigate support systems and resources. She has arranged autism awareness training at work and at her son’s school and is currently organising further training and fundraising so that the teachers can provide more tailored support to its autistic pupils.
Reena talks about her fear when she received her son’s diagnosis knowing nothing about autism and what this might mean for his future. However, she used the diagnosis to learn about autism and to research parenting strategies and interventions to best support her son.
Reena secured an EHCP for him and adapted her traditional parenting style to best serve his needs, for example by involving her son in key family decisions. Reena talks about how her son’s needs inform where they go and what they do and she openly explains to friends and families the impact certain environments can have on him.  
Reena says that there is still some discomfort in the Asian community about autism and people often struggle to talk about or acknowledge her son’s autism. Reena wants to promote autism education and awareness in the Asian community so that all autistic children have the opportunity to access support and interventions as early as possible. Reena cites the National Autistic society’s Diverse Perspectives research in the interview and how the subject of shame featured strongly in the Asian community – something she’s keen to address.
Reena talks about her own parents’ struggle as first generation Indians in the UK whose focus was on economic survival so they could provide opportunities to their children which weren’t available to them. She says that there was less of a focus on emotional intelligence or feelings dialogue and academic prowess became synonymous with success. She says that autism can be perceived as a threat to this success which is why many Asians may be afraid to accept the label or the diagnosis. Reena talks about adopting collaborative (rather than obedience-led  parenting) and considering success to be anything where our children are feeling fulfilled and are pursuing their life purpose. She’s adopted this with her own children and advocates that the wider Asian community consider this approach. 
Reena is committed to serving her son and others by speaking about autism to create greater tolerance and understanding about it. She writes about being an Asian autism parent in her blog and through video blogs on Instagram and Facebook.
If you missed our interview it is aired everyday this week at 1pm and 1am. 

Dr Anna Kennedy OBE is an educator who has worked to provide an improved education and other facilities for children with autism spectrum disorders. 


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