Documentary Influences a Change in France’s Autisim Policy

CC BY by Andy Hay

A year ago a movie was released known as “Le Mur”, translated means “The Wall”. The movie was a documentary and an in depth study of the treatment of two autistic children utilizing an American model of treatment and a French model of treatment. It was part of an ongoing process to change France’s treatment of autistic children and to make the world aware of what was happening. As early as January of this year, France held fast to the notion that autism was a mental illness. Thanks in part to the documentary, France is taking steps to reform its prior diagnosis that autism was a mental illness, or psychosis, and was treated as such.

The film portrayed one boy named Guillaume being treated with the American model of treatment, which includes behavioral modification, therapy, establishing structure, and teaching them by means of repetition. It also portrayed a boy named Julien, who underwent the French model of treatment. Essentially, Julien had been in an asylum for six years undergoing psychoanalysis due to the fact that he was believed to be mentally ill.

France is not alone in their view of autism, for autism once was referred to as childhood schizophrenia in the United States, but not so today. As stated, as early as June of this year, France still considered autism a mental illness which carried with it staggering ramifications for the child and the family, as the parents were often considered to be the cause of the mental disorder due to a lack of intimacy and emotional connection with the child during infancy.

Most autistic children in France did not attend school. They were either in a psychiatric hospital or at home. While in the grips of the psychiatric hospital, many forms of abuse have been reported. It is said that children were wrapped, naked, in refrigerated wet towels and sheets while undergoing psychoanalysis. These children were not taught how to talk or communicate, making psychoanalysis impossible. Often, children were removed from their families, if the family refused hospitalization, claiming their families were neglecting them.

However in May of this year, France announced a change to how they were going to diagnose and treat children inflicted with autism. The minister for the disabled, Marie-Arlette Carlotti, while being interviewed for a newspaper, had said that in the upcoming years, ranging from 2014-2017, France would be rolling out new methods of treatment and no longer consider it a mental illness. The plan includes more Americanized models of treatment such as behavioral modifications and teachings. It plans on introducing methods to teach children how to communicate, if not with words, than with pictures or gestures. It also announced the introduction of seven hundred new nursery schools designed specifically for children with autism. This is seen as a victory for lobbyists in France as well as in other countries.

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