France Announces New Autism Scheme
On Friday, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced a new five-year plan to improve the diagnosis and support of autistic children in France. More than $400 million has been set aside for the new program. France's existing policies towards autistic children have been heavily criticized in the past by the U.N.
The new plan is a fulfillment of President Emmanuel Macron's campaign promise to overhaul France's outmoded definition of autism. As of 2018, only 20% of autistic children in France attend school and less than 1% of autistic adults have full time jobs. An estimated 700,000 people in France suffer from autism, but only about 12% are diagnosed. Many French psychologists and educators are not trained to recognize the symptoms and often children go years before being diagnosed. In comparison with other European countries, French schools also lack trained faculty and staff who know how to work with autistic students. Many individuals suffering from autism are confined to psychiatric hospitals rather than receiving treatment at school or home. Sometimes, these children are forcefully institutionalized even against the wishes of their parents.
Autism treatments outlawed in other countries are still practiced in France. Some French psychologists still use packing therapy, invented by Professor Pierre Delion. Delion developed the redoubtable therapy, which involves autistic children being wrapped in cold, wet towels and then switching to a warm blanket. Packing therapy has been roundly denounced by the international community and has been dismissed as pseudoscience by many medical experts.
The new government program will officially launch on January 1, 2019. The five-year program will mandate two autism checks in the first two years of a child's life. The new scheme will also set up a fund to help pay for occupational therapists and other healthcare specialists that concentrate in treating autism. The plan will pay for additional classes in schools geared towards autistic students. The remainder of the money will go to paying for childcare and around $17 has been earmarked for autism research.
The new five-year plan was partially a response to sharp criticism levied by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child. In a 2016 statement, the organization censured French healthcare providers for institutionalizing autistic patients rather than treating them and condemned the use of packing therapy in the country's hospitals and clinics. Recently, a case involving an autistic French woman who lost custody of her three autistic children has also brought the country's issues with autism to the forefront.
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