As a subculture, the Amish are a small and socially introverted group that often keeps to themselves.
This leads to hundreds of questions about them, especially when it comes to their notoriously big families.
With so many children, many may wonder a simple question: Can Amish children have autism too?
The basic answer is simple: Yes.
However, we should consider why it’s so uncommon to hear about autism in Amish circles. If autism is present in Amish communities according to the current accepted definition, why isn’t the phenomenon of autism discussed more as it relates to the Amish?
In this blog, we’ll answer those questions and more to help offer a more holistic answer to this question.
Yes, Amish Children Can Be on the Autism Spectrum
First, it’s important to reiterate that the Amish can 100% have a child who could be diagnosed at some point on the autism spectrum.
There is nothing inherent in the genetic makeup or way of life in the Amish subculture that would make them immune to an autism diagnosis or the symptoms it entails.
In fact, perhaps because of inbreeding among various Amish communities, birth-related conditions are fairly common among Amish children at a rate higher than society at large.
So with this in mind, why don’t you hear about autism in Amish communities?
Why Don’t You Hear about Autism among the Amish?
There are a few reasons why you may rarely (if ever) hear about autism among the Amish.
Below are a few qualitative points that may contribute to this.
It’s important to note that these points are purely conjecture, meaning they are not backed up by any statistical analysis or academic research.
This is mostly because such research is almost impossible to find, if it exists at all.
As a result, the ideas below are based on experience among the Amish in Lancaster, PA — not hard data.
1. The Amish Are Generally Private
Perhaps the biggest reason that discussions of autism don’t arise around the Amish is that they’re generally a private subculture.
They actively shun everyday conveniences and, as stated earlier, they don’t often subject themselves to academic or statistical analysis.
More importantly, the Amish tend to stick together in their communities and discuss community issues together. They don’t often bring attention to community details to outside people.
So one of the most likely reasons why autism isn’t discussed in relation to the Amish is probably the simplest: They don’t publicize it outside of their communities.
2. Some Amish May Not Fully Understand It
It’s also worth noting that, when it comes to autism, the Amish may not have a full grasp of what that entails.
While Amish families receive medical care from qualified providers just like the rest of the United States, the Amish themselves only participate in education to an eighth grade level.
Even then, this education is provided by a community member — not necessarily a qualified teacher.
As a result, almost every Amish person enters the labor force with an understanding of arithmetic and English, but not much else — and certainly not medical information.
This means that even with medical assistance, an Amish family may not fully understand autism to the extent that they can request a specialist to evaluate a child.
This can also overlap with the Amish tendency to write off behaviors or actions that they consider abnormal.
In some circles, this is called being “strange.”
In this context, “strange” means a child is doing something out of the Amish norm, like exhibiting antisocial behavior or harsh reactions to minor stimulus.
As a result, there could be an autistic Amish child in a family, but the behavior would be shrugged off and not investigated from a medical perspective (unless a medical provider actively sought a diagnosis).
3. The Amish Don’t Have the Resources to Work with a Diagnosis
Finally, another reason why autism is seldom discussed in reference to the Amish could be that the Amish don’t have the resources (like time and money) to develop an approach to it.
There are a few reasons why this could be the case.
First, medical services are some of the most expensive needs in the country, and the Amish don’t have health insurance in most cases.
Instead, they use a small system of universal healthcare that is centralized around their local church. This lets everyone pay into a communal pot that they can then use for medical expenses, from routine appointments to major treatments.
Often, this pot is reserved for major medical needs, and it may not always be available for other concerns like therapy or diagnosing autism spectrum disorder.
Second, almost all Amish occupations somehow involve manual labor. This means the time and energy that a parent could spend with an individual child would instead have to be invested in agriculture, carpentry, or any other similar vocations that the Amish adopt.
In short, the Amish have to spend their time working to support their family and community, and it takes most of their time.
Third, the nature of Amish work also includes children working from young ages, doing things like simple chores or learning a vocation very young.
In a nutshell, this means that the priority of an Amish community is getting their children acclimated and up to speed in terms of their work — not necessarily evaluating them for autism spectrum disorder (or any other cognitive differences).
In this respect, only the most extreme cases of autism spectrum disorder would even merit mention in an Amish family, and even then, it’s still possible that the family could chalk it up to a child being “strange.”
So do Amish children get autism? They certainly could.
But the livable circumstances around that child are vastly different than modern non-Amish.
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