As part of our series of articles focusing on 'autism around the world', Polly Kourasti, Psychologist and Holiday Program Coordinator for A Million Senses discusses the current landscape of support, provision and understanding for autistic people and their families in Greece. Polly suggests that while autism awareness in Greece is growing, it is happening at a slower rate than many other countries.
Author: Polly Kourasti
Autism in Greece: improving awareness
Autism awareness in Greece is growing but more slowly than many other countries. Until 1998 people with autism in Greece were not included in the constitution, meaning there were no services that provided support, diagnosis, interventions and education. It is not surprising that even today we meet children abandoned by their families, in institutions that have no expertise in assisting and supporting them.
Since 2000 a series of legislations put autism on the map by creating a department for autism in the Sector of Mental Health of the Ministry of Health. For almost two decades there has been an effort to meet the needs of people with autism and their families, building on the foundations created by the department.
Children and families
Families with a child with autism are entitled to a monthly allowance by the state so they can cover the cost of their child’s education and therapeutic program. They receive an official diagnosis from a state run diagnostic centre and can claim their allowance from the social security services. There are some public special education schools and day care centers and a few of them are specialised in autism, but there aren’t enough to cover the needs of everyone on the spectrum.
Children with autism have the opportunity to attend mainstream education with extra support in class, funded in some cases by the state. Some mainstream schools also offer special education classes which provide extra support for children on the spectrum in a mainstream setting.
It’s also worth mentioning that most of the services designed to support people with autism are in the big urban areas of Greece and there is a substantial lack of services in rural areas. Although there are some public services for children with autism, for the most part their educational and therapeutic needs are covered by the private sector. This sector offers a wide variety of interventions and families must pay a big part of the cost out of their income.
New reforms are being introduced by the Greek government that include cutting a big part of the budget that supports the educational and therapeutic programs for people with disabilities. This budget cut will result in families not being able to afford much needed support for their children.
The situation for adults with autism is a bit different. Adults on the spectrum can also get an official diagnosis from public hospitals and mental health centres. When they do they are entitled to financial support so they can cover the expenses of their therapeutic program.
However, there is a lack of services for adults, whether they require residential or supported accommodation, or need some additional support to continue their education or get a job. This is true not only for the public sector but for the private sector as well. There are some supportive services for adults such as psychotherapy groups and social clubs or recreation groups, mostly run by the private sector. In recent years there have been some social enterprises that employ adults with autism but on the whole there aren’t enough opportunities for them in the job market.
There is still a lot to be done to educate society and service providers who still view autism as a condition relating to social awkwardness. Autism professionals in the past few years have done a good job in increasing autism awareness in communities. The general population has a notion of what autism is and are quite accepting and understanding towards the challenges they face.
However, they are still reluctant to have people with autism as friends, offer them jobs and include them in everyday life. There is still much work to be done towards acceptance and inclusion, and in my opinion it involves giving the public the knowledge and skills to understand autism and the difficulties people on the spectrum may face.
We at A Million Senses now see the world in two ways. As neurotypical people we enjoy all aspects of life as it is, adapted to the way we perceive things. We go to work, talk to our friends and enjoy the unexpected surprises of our surroundings. At the same time we know that this world is not at all adapted to people with disabilities and that people with autism may find our own reality confusing, irritating and chaotic.
We are constantly trying to help those families navigate through their unique challenges and hope that the near future will prove that Greece is a place of high autism awareness.
A Million Senses aspires to make Greece the first autism-friendly destination by designing holidays for people with autism and their families, while raising awareness and understanding of autism in the tourism industry. We are a team of autism professionals in Greece who are committed to improving knowledge about autism in our country in any possible way. Being able to work with children and adults on the spectrum has become a strong part of our identity.
Date added: 20 February 2017