Early Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
According to unofficial data, there are up to 12,000 children with autism spectrum disorder in Croatia. Not all children have access to early intervention and diagnosis. This is why parents often spend years searching for adequate support and diagnosis. Consequently, precious chances for children to reach their full potential are missed because they do not join early intervention programmes in time.
Lana Hrgovan, a psychotherapist and defectologist, said,
"We have been trying to develop a standardised system which will enable early detection of autism spectrum disorders. Our goal is to provide children and their parents with adequate support which will ensure the best possible development outcomes for children."
Lana Hrgovan is the coordinator of the UNICEF supported ‘Early Diagnosis and Early Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders’ project, which is aimed at enhancing the system for the benefit of children with autism. The project has brought together experts of various profiles, representatives of line ministries and parents.
UNICEF has gathered experts, decision-makers and parents to work together to build a standardised system that will enable the early detection of autism spectrum disorders and ensure that children and parents are provided with the help they need.
The common project includes the development of unified protocols and diagnostics for autism spectrum disorders, expert education in the early detection of autism and cooperation between the experts and government agencies involved.
What has been done so far?
A cooperation agreement between the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth, the Ministry of Science, Education and Sport and the UNICEF Office for Croatia was signed to support the Early Diagnosis and Early Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders project.
The aim of the Agreement is twofold:
- to enhance the system of screening and early diagnosis for children with autism spectrum disorders, and
- to enhance the system of early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders and their families.
A symposium titled ‘Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders – Models of Support for Preschool Children and Adults’ was organised.
UNICEF signed an agreement with its implementation partner, the Center for Rehabilitation at the Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences of the University of Zagreb in order to provide support for screening and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders.
The next step is to elaborate national guidelines for screening and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders for children aged 0 to 7 and create a five-year action plan.
Make it Equal: Capacity Building of the Early Childhood Intervention System
Children with developmental difficulties are primarily just children. Therefore, beside the additional support they require, they have the same needs as all other children and that is what early childhood intervention provides.
The project ‘Make it Equal’ is implemented in cooperation with the Croatian Association on Early Childhood Intervention. The aim of the project is to improve accessibility to and the quality of early intervention services for young children with developmental difficulties or developmental risks in childhood, gather experts and ensure access to information for parents in those counties with the least number of social services.
The project also includes the education of experts and local and regional government representatives on the parent-oriented approach to early childhood intervention. It also aims to raise public awareness on the multiple benefits of early intervention.
An internet browser of early intervention services has been developed as part of the project