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Poland: Cooperation on autism builds on French best practices

25 Maggio Mag 2008 0200 25 maggio 2008

A Polish delegation of policy makers and NGOs in France to build best practices in the field of autism. The goal? To create a national assistance system modelled on the French experience

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A Polish delegation of policy makers and NGOs in France to build best practices in the field of autism. The goal? To create a national assistance system modelled on the French experience

Polish policy makers and NGOs have turned to France for guidance in the development of an integrated assistance system for people with autism. Following a ground breaking law suit filed by NGO Autism-France in 1996 that ended with the French Government having to pay a steep fine for violating the constitutional rights of people with autism, France has developed good practices in the field of diagnosis, treatment and therapy of people with autism. Practices that the Polish Synapsis Foundation is looking to build on, and export to Poland.

Poland meets France
On May 13-16 a Polish delegation flew in to France to meet with French experts in the field of autism assistance. The delegation, that was made up of government officials as well as NGO representatives, consisted of Jarosław Duda, Government Plenipotentiary for people with disabilities and the Secretary of State in the Ministry of work and social policy, Arkadiusz Rybicki, Chair of the Polish Parliamentary group on autism, and Agnieszka Rymsza, Manager of the Advocacy department at the Synapsis Foundation. The study visit was organized by the Polish SYNAPSIS Foundation in cooperation with the French association Pro Aid Autisme.

The trip was organized so that Polish policy-makers with a direct influence on Polish laws could get to know France?s system of social assistance for people with autism and to launch a cooperation agreement between Polish and French governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Face to face
The Polish delegation met with the people responsible for and most involved in shaping French policies in the field of autism and other disabilities as well as the current president of the Autism-Europe Alliance, who is also French. The Polish delegation also visited several French centers for children and adults suffering from this disorder. The most important meetings included the meeting with Patrick Gohet, the Government Advocate for people with disabilities (the equivalent of the Polish Government Plenipotentiary for people with disabilities), who is also Chair of the National committee for autism, and with Jean-Francois Chossy, a member of French Parliament who alone was responsible for many of the changes in French law that resulted in an improved quality of life for people with autism.
The visit ended with the meeting in the Polish Embassy in Paris, where the Polish delegation talked with the Polish ambassador in Paris about the necessity of Polish-French cooperation for the development of an assistance system for people with autism and other disabilities.

France's best practices
Right now the French system of assistance for people with autism is a lot better developed than in Poland. And this is not just because of France?s larger GDP. It is more a question of political will. Despite the fact that Jean-Francois Chossy pushed for the passing, in 1996, of a interministerial circular on the rights of people with autism, little else was being done and several thousand French children with autism moved from rich France to small Belgium in search of help and better education. Eventually the Autism-France Alliance decided to file lawsuit in Strasburg against the French government for violating the constitutional rights of people with autism. When the French government lost the trial and had to pay a fine, France decided to catch up on all their arrears in the diagnosis, treatment and therapy of people with autism.

The result? The creation of 22 informational and diagnostic centers, one in every region, and a large number of centers for children and adults with autism, run by associations. 80% of the cost of such centers is incurred by the Ministry of Health, and 20% by local authorities. The situation of people with autism in France has since improved significantly. During the course of a special conference, on May 16th, Patrick Gohet, Government Advocate for people with disabilities, presented the next 3 year assistance plan for people with autism: the government has allotted close to 200 million euros to create 4,100 more places in special centers for people with autism. The French government also intends to increase social awareness about the rights and needs of such people so that children with autism can be admitted to regular schools.

The creation of a comprehensive plan for solving problems related to people with autism in France is one of the French NGO sector?s greatest success stories, who, with the support of a few individual members of the government?s administration devoted themselves to the cause. Let us hope that study visits like the one that just took place are a sign that the Polish government will not wait for desperate Polish parents to file a lawsuit in Strasburg before it does something to ensure that people with autism in Poland are offered adequate services.

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