There have been important advances in understanding autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) over the past twenty years but autism spectrum disorders still remain baffling and distressing conditions. Recently there has been increasing interest in early detection and early intervention and this, coupled with the growing evidence that autism/ASD are significantly more common than previously thought. However, there is no Europe-wide information on the prevalence. Equally, in Europe, the social and economic burden of ASD has not been adequately recorded, as epidemiological figures are unreliable and inconsistent.
In addition, in most European countries public and professional awareness of ASD remains limited. Particularly in central and Eastern Europe, families and individuals on the autism spectrum struggle with the negative stigma associated with ASD and face barriers to accessing services and employment opportunities. Awareness of adults and the elderly with ASD is particularly poor. The situation is particularly bad for adults and the elderly with ASD, who are often left undiagnosed, receiving inappropriate services or without access to enabling environments (e.g. employment; independent living).
On May 9th, 1996, the European Parliament launched an official Declaration in which it urged the Commission to fully support any effort and project to develop the rights of people with autism. However, there is no general policy for education and health services for people and families affected by ASD in Europe.
Autism Europe is a successful point of information dissemination and coordination of parental and advocacy groups across Europe.
Painting by Elbio Fernández Sara. Person diagnosed of autism.
Ramirez A, Posada de la Paz M, Knapp M, Romeo R & Morgan, H. Autism Spectrum Disorders. MAJOR AND CHRONIC DISEASES REPORT 2007. By the Task Force on Major and Chronic Diseases of DG SANCO’s Health Information Strand, April, 2008.
National Initiative for Autism, Ann Le Couteur, Chair, Core Working Group National Autism Plan for Children (NAPC). Plan for the identification, assessment, diagnosis and access to early interventions for pre-school and primary school aged children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) March 2003.