Richard Bates at The Conversation:
France has a problem with autism. The country’s highest administrative court estimates that there are 700,000 autistic people in France. However, only 75,000 are diagnosed. Autistic children have historically been diagnosed later in France than in neighbouring countries. They have often been excluded from mainstream education and lacked access to support services and extracurricular activities.
Many French autists are confined to day hospitals and live-in institutions, isolated from the community and frequently unable to communicate through speech – whereas in the US, for example, public schools are required by law to fully include autistic children in mainstream classroom education. For years, families in northeast France have taken autistic children to Belgium, to access its superior services.
The French government recognises these shortcomings. It was forced to do so in 2004 by a combination of domestic campaign groups and international pressure: the Council of Europe judged France’s autism provisions to be in breach of the European Social Charter. This judgement has been repeated in several subsequent cases. In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child also worried that French autists “continue to be subjected to widespread violations of their rights” to education and support.
The response has been a series of “Plans Autisme”, so-called “Marshall Plans” directing investment towards improving outcomes. The latest such plan – the fourth – was launchedin early April by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and will run until 2022. It seeks to recruit thousands of teaching assistants to enable autistic children to attend mainstream schools, as well as facilitating more diagnoses. Yet its very existence demonstrates that the results of the previous three plans were disappointing.