Autism affects around six out of a thousand children – five million in Europe alone. Despite research aimed at prompt diagnosis, and investment in new technologies, the return to school could be traumatic if it is not done with the support of educators and teachers, and through coaching. We need to build a society that is more inclusive towards vulnerable people so that they can fulfil their potential and integrate into the labour market. During the quarantine period, children with autism encountered a number of obstacles when it came to adapting to distance learning following the reduction of personal interaction.
On 25 August 2020, Italian Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Gianantonio Da Re of the Identity and Democracy Group raised a written parliamentary question to the European Commission.
MEP Da Re enquired from the Commission “will it increase its investments in research, in order to improve and update the care and treatment given to people with autism, including through the use of new technologies?” and “will it launch awareness-raising campaigns to combat all forms of discrimination among schoolchildren and students?”
On 24 November, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, responsible Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, responded on behalf of the European Commission.
Commissioner Gabriel reported that “Horizon 2020 has funded several projects on autism” and “the CARER-AID project developed a robot-therapist capable of screening/treating autism and associated intellectual disability”. She also added that “the EU-funded EBRA project will develop an agenda for brain research and strategic international initiatives”.
Further, Commission Gabriel explained that “Horizon Europe, as proposed by the Commission, foresees a large health component and one of the priorities identified is the better understanding of diseases, including brain diseases and mental conditions, with emphasis on new technologies and digital solutions”.
Commissioner Gabriel underlined that “the Commission works with the Member States on common challenges in the field of education and training” and “Member States recognise the need for a collaborative, cross-sectoral approach, providing teachers with professional development venues to better support these pupils”. She also highlighted that “under the European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children, the Commission funds a network of national Safer Internet Centres” and “its yearly key event will focus on children with disabilities and digital inclusiveness”.
“The Commission is also preparing an EU Comprehensive Strategy on the Rights of the Child, which will entail clear actions to better support disadvantaged children and children with disabilities” reported the Commissioner.
In closing, Commissioner Gabriel concluded that “the Commission will continue to support inclusion of all learners in the various educational settings, inter alia through the European Union programmes that support grassroots projects in schools, in higher education institutions and the civil society” and “the future Erasmus programme will reinforce its support to people with fewer opportunities to participate in education and training, including pupils and students affected by autism”.
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