Commissioner for Human Rights: Raised the issue of a national strategy for people with autism

The Commission decided to meet with the Minister of Labor and the Deputy Minister of Social Welfare to consider suggestions and possible solutions to the problems identified, as well as the proposal for holistic planning and monitoring in the framework of a National Strategy for Autism.

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The issue of a national strategy for a unified approach to issues related to the care and social integration of people with autism, was discussed at today's meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights.

The meeting was attended by representatives of organizations for autism, representatives of the Ministries. Of Education and Labor, the Ministry of Social Welfare, the Offices of the Commissioners for Administration and Protection of the Rights of the Child, as well as representatives of POED and OELMEK.

The discussion highlighted the problems posed by the complexity of the procedures, the discrimination in the payment of benefits and the insufficient benefits on the part of the state, to support people with autism, both in childhood, but especially after the age of 21, when the attending Special Schools.

In particular, the representative of the Office of the Commissioner for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, stated that she published a report from 2018, which argues that benefits should not be granted on the basis of severe or mild form of disability and stressed that this distinction often deprives benefits people with autism. The need to legislate to remove this discrimination was discussed during the meeting.

Representatives of organizations and associations for people with autism also highlighted as serious problems the lack of care for the life of people with autism after the age of 21, but also for their integration into society and the use of their talents and skills.

Parents of children with autism have reported that some positive steps are being taken very slowly. Positive moves are considered the establishment of houses for people with autism, as well as the Center for Early Intervention, to monitor them from the age of 2 years.

It was stressed, however, that there is a need to decentralize the services of the Center, since it is impossible for a parent to leave his whole family to visit Nicosia regularly for the needs of a child. They pointed out that parents are physically and mentally exhausted from the effort they make to support children with autism, while they often can not work, due to the time they need to devote to their care.

Converging on the view that a specialized approach is needed on issues related to people with autism, the Commission decided to hold a meeting with the Minister of Labor and the Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, in order to consider suggestions and possible solutions to the problems identified, as well as proposal for holistic planning and oversight under a National Autism Strategy.

The Chairman of the Committee, AKEL MP Irini Charalambidou, stated that those in charge pass the responsibilities to each other, since in order to secure support, people with autism and their families are forced to turn to many different departments and services. "This requires a national strategy, which designates a body responsible for coordinating and resolving the various problems, but also for evaluating and monitoring the various programs implemented," he explained, noting that the committee requested a meeting with the Minister of Labor and the Deputy Minister of Social Welfare in order to examine suggestions and possible solutions to the problems they identified.

He stressed that it is unacceptable to discriminate at the level of allowances, as well as the severance of rights with the justification that treatments are provided under the GESS, which are not sufficient, as well as the urgent need to support teachers, who are called to manage classes where students and children with autism.

In their statements at the meeting of the Committee, the representatives of the educational organizations underlined that the teachers need both training and guidance for handling classes with children with autism. The President of POED, Myria Vassiliou, said that the teachers take care to be informed with their own initiatives and to take care with their own material and to raise the awareness of the school community, while emphasizing the need to reduce the number of students in classes with children with autism.

The President of OELMEK, Costas Hadjisavvas, stated that the teachers, who have been charged with many responsibilities beyond their educational work in recent years, need help to handle classes with children who need special attention.

DISY MP, Rita Theodorou Superman, in her statements after the meeting of the Committee stated that finances are a big problem for people with autism and explained that "the benefits are not enough to attend the programs that every child needs for its own development and prosperity ". He added that it is very important to have specialized staff to support people with autism, both in the hostels created by the Department of Social Integration, and in the school units, where there are escorts for these children.

Speaking at the meeting of the Committee, DISY MP, Fotini Tsiridou, said that "it is worrying that we do not have a clear number of people with autism in the country." He welcomed the National Action Plan, the establishment of new centers and the funds that have been found, but stressed that "it would be good for the issue of autism to become something specialized, with the coordination of all relevant departments." He stressed that with the right support, people with autism can integrate into society and work.

The Chairman of the Education Committee and Member of Parliament for DIKO, Pavlos Mylonas, also participated in the discussion as a guest, who said that "schools are not able to meet even to a tolerable level the needs of children with autism." As he said, neither the teachers are sufficiently trained, nor the number of children per class allows for proper handling, nor the unskilled school attendants can help, nor is the culture of acceptance sufficiently cultivated within the school community.

The MP of the Ecologists' Movement, Alexandra Attalidou, noted that it is necessary to create statistical records with the number of people with autism in Cyprus, the degree of manifestation of the disorder in each person and the needs they present, in order to establish a comprehensive policy. He mentioned the need for benefits for families where parents can not work because they are caring for children with autism.

In a statement, MP Alekos Tryfonidis of DIPA, also welcomed the suggestion for the preparation of a national strategy to address the needs of children with autism, while he stated that he considers it "unacceptable to perpetuate these problems and to discuss them again and again. "Solutions must be given immediately." It is, he said, “the right of children with autism to enjoy their human rights on an equal footing as all individuals in society. To have proper education but also smooth integration into society ".