In January 2017, the Flemish Government, governing the northern region of Flanders in Belgium, approved a strategic plan on increased participation opportunities for autistic people. The plan, known as the “Flemish Action Plan Autism” (Vlaams Actieplan Autisme in Dutch) kicks off this year and is set to last until the end of 2019. An annual budget of 800,000€ has been set aside to fund the plan’s foreseen activities.
With the Action Plan, the Flemish government wants to meet the societal challenges faced by the autism community, and to support them and their families across the range of areas where they typically face barriers. It strives most notably to strengthen the knowledge, expertise and competences of professionals within different settings, in order to provide autism-friendly and adapted care in their day-to-day work.
The overview provided by the Flemish government outlines both a view of existing policies within the Belgian region, and newly funded proposals coming from the Action Plan, in order to give a global overview of what support is on offer.
The plan is built around five key areas: autism-friendliness, training for professionals, diagnosis and early intervention, preventing the aggravation of difficulties associated with autism, and ensuring transparency in support and services for autistic people and their families.
Among the most notable new areas of action proposed for 2018-2019 are the following:
- The Flemish Association for Autism (VVA), a member of Autism-Europe, will be supported by the government in delivering “autistic thinking and feeling” immersion sessions to help people understand better what it means to live with autism;
- Including participation opportunities for people with autism to the existing equal opportunities policy;
- Making the written version of the Action Plan itself available in a clear and autism-friendly language (will be made available later in 2018);
- The creation of a policy group that includes autistic people, known as the NOOZO Policy Group (Nothing about us without us);
- Providing further investment to consolidate and broaden the online platform Participate-autisme.be, which is already a reference for anyone who is looking for clear and reliable information about autism;
- Preparation of a Flemish Scale for Adaptive Behaviour, referring to various important skills that children, young people and adults need in everyday life, such as skills in the field of communication, play or self-care. By developing a good questionnaire, based on ABAS-3 or the Adaptive Behaviour Assessment System, the Flemish government hopes to be able to more easily and quickly determine in the future which children need extra support;
- Additional financing for the realisation of a programme for early detection and intervention which focuses on 0 to 23 months olds. The early-detection programme will be run in close cooperation with General practitioners, families, teachers, and youth workers;
- Strengthening the capacity of a number of services and facilities that offer diagnoses;
- Ensuring every autistic person is able to call on a confidential counsellor who is his or her support contact when interacting with social workers, juvenile judges, school, work, etc. Although this function already exists, it is not sufficiently known, and the Action Plan will support publicising this service and how to access it;
- Investment in accommodation such as small-scale housing units for young adults (co-housing) with adapted guidance and flexible supervision.
Since the launch of the Action Plan at the start of 2018, consultations with the various stakeholders are now underway to see how the 800,000€ of subsidies can be best used in 2019.