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Ideas sought for a more autism-friendly Flanders

09:55 04/12/2018

Ideas that will help make Flanders more autism-friendly are being collected and shared under a new project set up by Leuven and Ghent universities. The Academic Autism Workshop (AWA) will bring together people with autism and their families with researchers, professionals and policymakers to find solutions that enable people with autism to participate fully in society.

The aim is to make sure that good ideas developed in one context are shared and can be applied in others. To this end, the AWA has launched an open call to organisations to have their practices evaluated.

The intention is to get greater insight into which forms of prevention, support, guidance or treatment best help people with autism to participate in various aspects of daily life and how it can contribute to their quality of life.

Flemish public health minister Jo Vandeurzen has committed €390,000 to the project over three years. The AWA is a result of the Flemish Autism Action Plan, which the government launched last year, he explained in a statement.

“It’s an essential aid for addressing the challenges to participation faced by children, young people and adults with autism,” he said. “Ultimately, the knowledge we collect must be made freely available through the AWA so that it can be used by other organisations.”

The AWA’s work is divided into four themes. The first is raising awareness and providing information and advice that can change public and personal attitudes to autism. This will focus on settings such as schools and the workplace, along with the wider public.

Proactive support is needed for transitional moments like going to school or to work for the first time

The second theme concerns early interventions that can help young children who either have autism or are awaiting diagnosis. Support for parents will be an important aspect of this activity.

The third theme is proactive support for transitional moments in the lives of people with autism. These include going to school for the first time, the transition to higher education or to work, and the challenges of living independently. This will also take in changes in their personal lives, such as the birth of children.

Finally, the AWA will look at measures for preventing or treating psychological problems. These range from an increased chance of developing burn-out, depression or anxiety and having addiction problems.

Written by Ian Mundell (Flanders Today)