Inclusion, acceptance, shame and isolation

attitudes to autism in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia

Rozanna Lilley, Mikala Sedgwick, Liz Pellicano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This is the first qualitative study to investigate experiences of, and attitudes towards, autism in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia. Understanding the complexity of these attitudes is crucial because they influence the recognition of autism as well as the ways in which individuals and families are supported. Twelve families with 16 autistic children living in diverse regions of Australia participated in a semi-structured interview. The interviews were thematically analysed using the six-step process outlined by Braun and Clarke. The analysis identified a marked tension in participants’ accounts. On the one hand, participants described negative feelings, including shame associated with atypical behaviour, stigmatisation and the social isolation of families, which potentially point towards under-identification or misdiagnosis. On the other hand, they also described inclusive attitudes, including ‘looking after each other’ and a growing acceptance of autistic differences. This positive model of support for and acceptance of autistic children and their families may well contribute to good outcomes for autistic children and adults in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. More research is needed on cross-cultural and pluralistic understandings of autism, parental perceptions and family experience.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Jun 2020


  • aboriginal
  • attitudes
  • Australia
  • autism
  • cross-cultural
  • families
  • First Peoples
  • Indigenous
  • mothers
  • Torres Strait Islander

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