Psychology, Research

Autism and Aboriginal families: new project to shed light on health inequity in BC Aboriginal communities

January 30, 2018

A new study lead by SFU Psychology’s Dr. Grace Iarocci, “Autism and Aboriginal families: Bridging the cultural gap through collective dialogue,” aims at beginning a dialogue with Aboriginal communities about their experiences with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Co-led with Romona Baxter of the Nzen’man’ Child and Family Development Centre in Merritt, BC, the project has earned a 2018 Convening & Collaborating (C2) award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.

While exact rates of ASD among Aboriginal children in Canada are unknown, their proposal notes, US and Australian data shows the disorder is “significantly-underdiagnosed among Aboriginal populations” and communication with the provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development (who oversee funding for ASD diagnosis and intervention) suggests that ASD is as prevalent among Aboriginal children as it is among those of non-Aboriginal ancestry in BC.

The project will allow researchers to gather information on the challenges facing the communities of the Nlaka’pamux Nation, comprised of 16 First Nation communities in the Lytton and Merritt areas, as well as an off-reserve population in the Merritt area.

To begin dialogue with these communities, they plan to host a two-day knowledge gathering event for Aboriginal families of children with ASD and their service providers. In addition to providing culturally appropriate information on ASD and an overview of available provincial resources, organizers at the event will have discussion groups and encourage families and service providers to share their experiences, perceived gaps and needs, and help identify opportunities for health research to facilitate improvement.