Brighter future for autistic young people in France

Autistic children in France “continue to be subjected to widespread violations of their rights”, a United Nations report said two years ago.

This coincided with a high-profile court case, dubbed the Rachel affair, in which a mother from Grenoble was refused access to her three autistic children and accused of faking their condition. It prompted the government to promise a new action plan, addressing what was called a “civilisational challenge”.

The publication of that promised government strategy, coupled with encouraging results from an ongoing clinical trial, could finally lead to life-altering changes for autistic children and adults in France.

The welcome news has come too late for Limoges-based Sarah Berry, 47, who admitted she has “no faith” in the country’s education system.

Niamh Berry (left) and her mother, Sarah

She said daughter Niamh, now 19, exhibited early signs of autism at 14.

“She was basically breaking down every lunchtime, every day,” Sarah said. “There was one teacher who would see her in a corner, who wrote it off as ‘family troubles’. They never stopped to speak to her, or tell me this was how they were finding her.”

The situation deteriorated in 2014, when Niamh moved up to lycée.

The school nurse picked up on her struggles and arranged for her to attend a Maison des Adolescents – a centre which offers support to young people and their families. Sarah said the help her daughter received ...

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