Birgitte ''2014''

Autism in Denmark – an overview – with special focus on inclusion By Birgitte Bjørn, parent and Autism advocate, researcher, author Sparring with Director Torbjörn Andersson, The Foundation Samraadet and my son Nicolai Østergaard Jensen

This article will be presented in three parts.

Part 1

The large picture of the autism field in Denmark is, that the field have went through large changes over the last 10 years, and is still doing it. Paradoxally, new large initiatives and well-researched projects are taking off, while there is an increasing despecialization, increasing budget cuts and a significant decrease in the amount of students and people receiving specialized help or education.

A high standard, quality and knowledge

Danes enjoy a high standard of living and Denmark ranks highly in numerous comparisons of national performance, including education, healthcare, and protection of civil liberties, democracy governance and human development.

There are 98 municipalities in Denmark. The level of service is different as the municipalities are self-governing and set their own standards. Some municipalities are rich and some are not so rich and it has an impact on the citizens living there. Actually some parents to an autistic child choose to resettle in another municipality because of the low service level in their existing municipality.

More Facts about Denmark

Estimated population, Oct. 2014   5.655.750

Area                            42.915.7 km2

Municipalities                     98

Ordinary Schools, 2013                    1.312

Special Schools, 2013                      181

Pupils in Ordinary Schools, 2013   558.581

Pupils in Special Schools, 2013     9.060

Historically speaking, Denmark has been a leading country in the autism and disability field. The standard, quality and available information in this field is and has been very high. It is a part of the Danish welfare system, namely that these fields are funded through taxes. Danish taxes are high, between 38% and 56% – depending on your income. On top of this there is the high custom on

of 25%.

The base knowledge of workers within this field is quite unique. Initiatives such as TEACH, ATLASS and STUDIO 3 are prioritized highly due to their work focusing on the entire individual, rather than simple symptom curing. These programs contain both structure, participation, autonomy, ”low arousal” and stress reduction. The latest one has put extra focus on the significance of creating wellbeing for the individual in question.

Due to the relatively small size of Denmark, spreading new information and knowledge becomes easy, which benefits both employees and citizens.

Disability housing, communities, colleges and housing for the elderly

In Denmark there is being constructed, and have been constructed, specialized housing for the disabled and elderly, as well as college like buildings where they citizens can support each other and be around like-minded individuals. But budget cuts affect the quality of these construction projects. A reduction in staff is one of the things that gets cut. And the ability to receive a free ”companion” to help with everyday activities are continuously down prioritized in Danish municipals. In 18 out of 98 municipals the rights to this aid have altogether been removed. Some autistic people are therefore left without any contact or options to go outside their institution.

However the Hinnerup Kollegie, have just finished work on the (presumably) first in the world, construction tailor made for elderly citizens with autism.

The Psychiatry

The standard is once again high. There is a fixed limit for how a citizen should have to wait before receiving a diagnosis, and are guaranteed treatment within 2 months. This guarantee is upheld somewhat well.

But in Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city – where I live, the psychiatry area is receiving budget cuts. Construction of a new psychiatric hospital has begun, and accompanying is a demand for an 8% increase in efficiency. This means that from 2015 there will be made cuts in the specialized help available to autistic children aged 0-7.

Autism Denmark (Landsforeningen Autisme) has made the following statement on the affair:

”Early diagnosis is alpha and omega, when it comes to autism. It is therefore very important that the correct diagnosis is given at an early age. Examining the children and diagnosing correctly takes experience, thoroughness and specialized knowledge.”

Uncoordinated action

Considering previous initiatives as well as budget cuts, it is reasonable to conclude that the autism field in Denmark lacks a larger unified plan or direction, and that there currently is a depressing negative development happening in the specialized social field.

Watering down the specialized social area

In 2007 there was a structural reform in Denmark, where among other things the specialized social field was handled individually from municipal from municipal, where earlier on there had been regional standards. Following 2007, there is now 98 individual municipals in Denmark, and with them huge variation in their available knowledge and the available services for disabled citizens.

In extension of this should be mentioned, that Denmark is rather unique, because the majority of our offers and specialized aid for handicapped citizens are free due to funding through high taxes. Elementary school is likewise free to attend.

Specialized elementary education is currently a subject of high political interest, due to the increasing costs of it, and the want of politicians to bring down expenses by relocating funds from specialized schools to regular ones. Therefore there now is an alarming focus on removing children with special needs from a specialized school, and placing them in regular ones, as well as removing the demands for specialized / tailored education.

What is described in the above paragraph is inclusion. It is roughly defined by the national association of municipals as follows:

The placement of disabled children in local schools, so the pupil has the opportunity to learn the same lessons as regular children, such as conforming to the structure and the norms of the school.

Due to student transfers several specialized schools are getting shut down, and the highly experienced and trained staff is left to seek jobs elsewhere.

Determined politicians are also quite adept at shedding negative light on diagnoses and slandering them with wrong and harmful ’knowledge’. Because without a diagnose municipals aren’t required to provide the same aid as they otherwise would have to. Because the needs of a person is hard to know without anyone providing a solid diagnosis and accompanying plan of action.

Specialized education and segregation, 2012/2013

The amount of students receiving segregated education, that is education received in a separate specialized environment in a normal school, has been dwindling steadily since 2010/2011

The goal of the government and the national association of municipals is that 96% of all students should be included in the normal school education by 2015. That is to say, only 4% of all children in normal schools should be receiving separate education, and this is regardless of their needs.

In 2012/2013 a total of 5,2% of children in municipal schools received segregated education.

To be continued…

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