The project addresses the problem of the exclusion of people on the autism spectrum from social and professional life in Poland. The number of disability certificates issued to persons on the autism spectrum is increasing by several thousand per year – in 2012 there were 7617 and in 2019. – 19 859 (MRPiPS). Increasingly, adults are being diagnosed. At the same time, people on the autism spectrum experience difficulties in accessing basic social services, health care or the labour market. Their needs are often not taken into account in legal acts and the resulting offer of support. At the same time, there are still a lot of stereotypes around the autism spectrum. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of tools that would allow people on the spectrum to represent their own interests.
The project involved advocacy and consultation on legislation affecting people on the autism spectrum. Among the topics addressed were the creation of a new model of assisted housing for dependent persons on the spectrum, the availability of publicly funded health services, the availability of social rehabilitation in Community Self-Help Centres, amendments to the Act on Ensuring Accessibility for Persons with Special Needs, and supported employment. Thanks to the cooperation efforts of the community of persons on the autism spectrum and organisations working for the benefit of persons with disabilities, an opinion group was established, consisting of persons on the autism spectrum, their parents, specialists, representatives of non-governmental organisations. An important element of the project was the self-advocacy component. People on the autism spectrum – both high-functioning and severely disadvantaged – were prepared to advocate for their cause by taking part in a workshop on ‘How to be a self-advocate in practice’. This resulted in more than a dozen self-advocacy speeches. Individuals on the spectrum and their parents also benefited from counselling, primarily on legal and social issues.
The project has influenced the effectiveness of our advocacy work (including the creation of supported housing for people on the autism spectrum). By equipping 12 people on the spectrum – including those experiencing severe difficulties in their daily functioning – with self-advocacy competencies and giving them a voice, their perspective emerged more strongly in the social debate. Those taking part in the workshop improved their social skills and self-confidence.