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Integration of people with health disabilities: Joint project in Austria and Slovakia  

​In Vienna, Bratislava and Trnava, about 28 000 people are affected by autism. Both Vienna and Bratislava are important research centres in medicine and psychology, but both also need to catch up to international standards in the fields of diagnosis, integration and scientifically sound therapies. In the project areas, many people affected by autism had impaired social, communicative-linguistic and practical skills. In addition, the psychological strain for people with autism and their families can be tremendous. The project aimed to increase the level of autism education and service in these areas to promote social inclusion and lifelong learning. The project worked to raise the level of service for autism patients in both Vienna and Bratislava, bringing it up to international standards through knowledge transfer and establishing an accredited training program specifically for therapists specialising in autism.

Training curricula were developed for autism therapy as a cross-border pilot-project. Because recent approaches to therapy were seen from different angles based on different scientific backgrounds in the two countries, the method and curricula were subjects of intense dialogue, which resulted in a more open training approach incorporating the best practices from both Austria and Slovakia. The training course was accredited according to international standards. Trainers and participants were recruited to participate in the program, and were introduced to the applied behaviour analysis (ABA) method. This was the first time the ABA method was introduced in either Austria or Slovakia, and the participants were trained in order to apply the method and educate others in the future.  Participants also sat in on existing autism institutes abroad.

A large part of the project included mapping the legal framework and prearranging its organisational infrastructure as far as locations and teaching material, to ensure its ongoing success. Dedicated lobbying approaches to establish the course and the therapy according to the Austrian and Slovak legal conditions, to ensure the program was compatible with social insurance provisions, were another crucial effort of the project. The project is a forerunner in the region, and promotes long-term efforts to understand and treat autism. The training programme is financially viable in the long-run through a special focus on local spending capacities and the creation of a sustainable structure.
Additional workshops were held in Bratislava on diagnostics, counselling and service provision. Workshops covered the spectrum of autism disorders, as well as Asperger’s syndrome, the pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatment, and the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH approach). These workshops enabled additional and ongoing knowledge transfer to those working with patients with autism.

Part of the project included renovating the premises in Bratislava for training needs, and also acquiring literature, hardware, software, and test procedures needed. Through the pilot program and continuing education efforts, therapists in the project areas are now able to offer new approaches for patients with autism. In addition, the approach included strong involvement of family members, furthering their awareness and understanding of autism, and helped them to be able to provide better support. Total investment for the project “ACE Autism and Competence Exchange” was EUR 519 532, with the European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 77 179 under the operational programme “European Territorial Cooperation Austria-Slovak Republic” under the priority axis “Social Dimension of Integration.”

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