2007: Remapping the World of Autism

The Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders in South Korea

Nicolas Abreu
Branford College
Yale Class of 2008

Nicolas Abreu
Thanks to the Chase Coggins Fellowship, I studied a wide range of issues surrounding children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in South Korea. For eleven weeks, I conducted research in Seoul at the Korea Institute for Children’s Social Development. I spent the first couple of weeks working on a project analyzing data from thousands of autism screening questionnaires for a large-scale study of the prevalence of ASD in South Korea. I devised a series of algorithms to work with incomplete data and my results were then used to determine which children deserved follow-up assessments for ASD. I then designed and ran an experiment studying face recognition skills in children with ASD because there is a lack of research on face processing in children with ASD outside of Western cultures. I tested Korean children with and without ASD using a recognition memory test and my initial results suggest that just like Western children with ASD, Korean children with ASD also exhibit face recognition deficits. Extending this further, face recognition deficits might likely be a universal marker of ASD, not affected by the culturally defined social standards for face perception and eye contact. Finally, I absolutely adored the spare time I spent volunteering with an alternative school in Ilsan and the Institute.

This fellowship gave me a fantastic opportunity to pursue my academic interests in exciting new territory. Not only did I carry out some excellent work that I will use for my senior essay in Cognitive Science, but I have gained a deep appreciation for Korean culture and have developed a cross-cultural sensitivity when dealing with and discussing medical issues. I found that I am most fascinated by questions like “What is autism really?” and “How we can best define the disorder?” and by pursuing a career as a child psychiatrist, I will be able to more precisely determine what the core combination of cognitive, behavioral, and medical issues are in ASD so that we will be able to provide the best possible therapies to each and every autistic child.