Overcoming Barriers: a short film to promote culturally sensitive services to support Somali families affected by autism

Like other migrant groups, the Somali community has high numbers of children with autism, many of whom are likely to be severely affected. More than 70 families in the Bristol Somali community have one or more children with autism. They are supported by a community organisation, Autism Independence (AI), led by Nura Aabe.

Our research with AI identified the challenges these families face in getting support for their children.

There is no Somali word for autism, making it hard to understand and accept. Cultural stigma surrounding mental health, challenging behaviour and disability means that families often hide their child and don’t seek help early. Parents can feel isolated and don’t engage with support services for their child.

The research findings highlight that service providers need to understand cultural views of autism in order to support Somali families. There’s also a need to raise awareness and reduce stigma within the Somali community, and to provide support to encourage families to seek help for their children.

Project aims

When we shared these findings, many organisations asked for information, resources and training to help them work more effectively with Somali families affected by autism.

Nura’s community theatre project ‘Yusuf can’t talk’ showed how story-telling is a powerful way to communicate this kind of sensitive information. It can demonstrate families’ lived experience, from assessment and diagnosis through to engagement with services.

We are producing a short film to increase awareness in the Somali community itself, while also being a resource for professionals supporting families with autism.

AI and CLAHRC West are producing the film with the Therapeutic Media Company, which specialises in films for the health and social care sectors. They have a strong track record of fostering inclusive creative partnerships using participatory techniques.

The film will be used:

  • as a stand-alone resource, freely and publicly available online
  • in conjunction with AI’s existing training for professionals who are supporting families in the Somali community
  • to train healthcare professionals at university

This project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Acceleration Account.

Anticipated impacts

We hope that the film will help challenge the stigma surrounding autism in the Somali community, and that families will benefit from more understanding about the condition and the support that’s available. The film will also be accessible to Somali communities in other countries, who share common experiences in terms of their understanding and acceptance of autism.

By promoting the film to professional groups and trainees, we hope it will improve understanding and communication between service providers and Somali families affected by autism. It has the potential to enhance support and services for these families.

Through the process of producing this film, AI have benefited from a deeper understanding of important issues within the community it supports. The film will also demonstrate how being involved in research can have lasting impact and benefit for both voluntary sector organisations and the communities they serve. AI will also be able to use the film when talking to or training professionals in health, social care and education.

The film was premiered on 3 April at the Watershed in Bristol.

Watch the film

English version

Somali version

Our previous research on this issue

This project came about as a result of our previous research with Autism Independence.

CLAHRC BITE (Brokering Innovation Through Evidence)

Overcoming barriers: autism in the Somali community

This CLAHRC BITE gives the highlights from this project in a printable A5 format.

Download the BITE

Links and downloads

Lead collaborators

  • Nura Aabe, Autism Independence
  • Matthew Hemson, Therapeutic Media Company
  • Dheeraj Rai, University of Bristol

CLAHRC West staff

Sabi Redwood

Dr Sabi Redwood

James Nobles

Dr James Nobles

  • Senior Research Associate in implementation

Jon Kerslake

  • Project Support Officer
  • Management and administration
Zoe Trinder-Widdess

Zoe Trinder-Widdess

  • Communications Manager
  • Management and administration

Partners on this project

University of Bristol

The University of Bristol is internationally renowned and one of the very best in the UK, due to its outstanding teaching and research, its superb facilities and highly talented students and staff. Its students thrive in a rich academic environment which is informed by world-leading research. It hosts the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research.