So the world has been buzzing with the news that in Ilsan, out of over 55,000 elementary students involved in a study, 2.64% showed signs of having an Autism Spectrum Disorder. I obviously (I can’t stress this enough) am not a scientist, but I am an educator who has worked in both the U.S. and in Korea, and I’m thinking, maybe, is it possible that the questions asked of parents involved in the study (the results of the study were determined mainly via surveying the parents) were questions that were not entirely applicable to Korean students?
There are many, many similarities between our two countries, but it’s important to realize that there are some huge differences too. The study points to the fact that many of the Korean students who could possibly have an ASD “”did not participate in many activities outside of school”". After speaking to the parents I teach, it seems pretty clear that most of their kids only really participate in one activity outside of school–more school. Yes, in the U.S. a kid might hang out downtown, take ballet, piano, play soccer etc. on school days, but in Korea, most of the kids I know spend their after school time studying in private academies. Not to mention the fact that tons of these kids are up past midnight studying, only to wake up at 7:00 and go back to school. I don’t think it’s abnormal at all in Korea for a child to have limited after school activities–including playing with friends. As one of the parents I know pointed out “Look at the playgrounds, when do you ever seen children in them??”.
Could it be that the questions given to parents in Ilsan just didn’t take into account the vast difference between the way kids are raised in our respective countries? Again, I have no idea– this is a mostly blind theory. I’d also like to point out this study which says that South Korea students have been ranked the second lowest out of 36 participating countries in social interaction. Is this because of the high rate of Autism in Korea? I don’t think it is.
Joo-Young and I were talking the other day about this, and the whole thing seems a little weird. It might be easy, by American standards to assume that a student who has a lack of after school activities and who excels at multiple choice tests instead of kickball with friends might have an ASD, but I think that’s a pretty big leap to make in a country where a student’s ability to focus only on one subject at a time, religiously devote themselves to memorizing facts, and deciphering the minute aspects of foreign language grammar are prized and praised. Education is the number one priority for students in Korea, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with Korea’s students. This is not to say that there aren’t children with Autism in Korea, I’m just suggesting that the rate might not actually be as high as reported (basically double the rate in the U.S.).