France lags behind the rest of Europe when it comes to autism with around just one fifth of children getting the support they need, it’s been claimed.
Is France the worst in Europe at helping autistic sufferers?— Chris Harris (@lyonanglais) April 2, 2016
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Autisme France (AF) says the country has a backward vision of the disorder, putting its faith in psychoanalysts who consider it a form of psychosis, which goes against practices elsewhere in the EU.
World Health Organisation says autism, which is thought to affect one in 100 people in Europe, is a brain development disorder, characterised by difficulties with social interaction and a repetitive set of interests and activities.
France’s attitude means autistic children are not being diagnosed with the disorder, leading to exclusion from school, lack of educative support, sectioning in hospital or over-medication, according to AF president Danièle Langloys.
Langloys, speaking to Euronews ahead of the World Autism Awareness Day on Saturday, April 2, said: “Basically nobody dares question the psychoanalysts in this realm which blocks people from being diagnosed with autism and therefore stops them from receiving the care they need.
“In Europe we are lagging behind on this issue: we have a retrograde vision of autism, diagnosis is rare and often badly carried out, there is discrimination against people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in school and in the professional world, there is misguided psychiatric treatment, a lack of educative and social support.
“Now, families seek help privately from autism specialists – that is a sector which is developing. So all in all about 20 percent benefit from requisite care. However for adults it’s a different story – no autism diagnosis, no services – we see these people wrongfully hospitalised in psychiatric wards.”
But French psychoanalyst Eric Laurent told the BBC that psychoanalysis was being used as a scapegoat and that treating the problem as a brain development disorder does not address autism’s root causes.
The Council of Europe has condemned France five times for ‘discriminating against people with autism spectrum disorders’, while the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child has criticised the country for institutionalising autistic children, added Langloys.
Autism Europe (AE) said despite this criticism, little has changed.
“From the reports we get from France, no, it’s not improved dramatically,” said Aurélie Baranger, AE director. “There’s been some improvements to a certain extent but support is still lacking for the moment.
“France is often named and shamed as one of the worst in Europe because you would expect better from a country with the tradition of human rights and so on. But it’s not the case, unfortunately. There is still more to be done in order for the situation to be satisfactory for families of those with autism in France.”
Baranger said France had stopped exporting its ‘problem’ to Belgium but that funding was not being made available to help educate autistic children. Around 20 percent of autistic children are schooled in mainstream education in France.
But it’s not just children who are suffering. Baranger says many adults have been failed because were they never properly diagnosed, especially those born before the 1980s. This, she added, leads to discrimination in later life, including a lack of job opportunities. She says just 15 percent of adult autism sufferers are in full-time employment in the UK.
“We know the older generation very often have either been misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all,” said Baranger. “Yes, to some extent they’ve been failed and people who still nowadays are not receiving support. It can lead to very dramatic situations where people are left completely on their own without any support and very isolated.
“In many cases it’s families that are left to care for adults with autism and when parents die or are no longer there to care for them they are often left alone and without any support. And we’ve seen reports in the news of people who have died because they did not have anyone to care for them.
“If the family is not there sometimes they will go to psychiatric hospitals where they will sometimes be heavily medicated in some countries and they will not receive adapted support for autism.”
Baranger said elsewhere in the EU awareness of autism had improved but that problems of getting a diagnosis persisted, for example in Belgium, where there are delays of a couple of years.
She said there are also problems around getting early intervention and support for autistic children that is evidence based.
“When I say evidence based it is just that sometimes we see that there are treatments and therapies that are offered to parents that can potentially be very harmful for children,” said Baranger. “For example we’ve recently received news from Croatia where apparently people were contacted to give bleach treatment – it’s a solution that contains bleach and which is said to treat autism, which is obviously completely false. But some parents without the right information and without access to proper support may be tempted to try anything.”
There have also been reports of a similar bleach treatment being offered in the UK, exposed by a BBC investigation.
Autism Europe, to coincide with the global awareness day, has launched a manifesto to help improve the lives of autistic people. It includes a call for the EU to develop a European strategy on autism to improve detection and diagnosis, promote evidence-based intervention and support and foster prevalence studies.
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