God’s Gift or Karma’s Curse? The Influence of Social Status on Social Constructs of Autism

Daw Aye Aye Pyone1, Nan Moe Kham2

1Department of Anthropology, Mandalay University, Myanmar, 2Social Policy & Poverty Research Group, , Myanmar

Globally, there has been a trend showing an increase in the reported prevalence of autism, with anecdotal evidence from Myanmar showing a higher reported prevalence of autism amongst wealthier families. However, definitions of autism are derived from societal norms for social functioning, which themselves are not only culturally embedded, but also highly dependent on broader contextual factors which shape expectations. This paper uses narrative research to explore how narratives are powerful agents in constructing and sustaining both the societal norms, and the epistemological framings of identity for those whose behaviour falls outside those norms. This illustrates not only a source of explanation for perceived higher prevalence rates of autism amongst wealthier families, but also highlights a continued source of inequalities, where powerful narratives in turn shape the given identities, and future possibilities, of children from different socio-economic backgrounds with non-neurotypical behaviour.


Daw Aye Aye Pyone has a particular research interest in the social construction of identity, including research with Zurich University on “Impact of bilingualism on language and identity of Pa-O people”. As a mother of a child with disabilities, she has strong personal as well as academic interest in how society constructs identity for children with autism.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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