Thirty years of Center for Autism
in Zagreb, Republic of Croatia
On October the third 2013. y. Center for Autism in Zagreb marks thirty years since the door of Center were officially opened in Dvorničićeva 6 street. History of Center for Autism is the history of development specialized and systematic welfare for children, youth and adults with autistic disorders (autism spectrum disorders) in Republic of Croatia.
The history of the Center begins in 1979. y. when the Society for help to autistic children and youth was established by ten families who had autistic children.
The most important problem that parents stands for was impossibility of education and dismissing their children from rehabilitation institutions so that they can go home or to the psychiatric institution. It was the time when the Law of educational integration (1983. y.) was in it’s preparations. By that Law the right for education for children with greater developing difficulties was guaranteed.
In 1981. y. was open first specialized Department for Autism in primary school with the special program for the students with intellectual difficulties. The program of education was experimental. First students was in great age range, from 7 till 22 years. Since 1981. y. till 1983. y. Society to help autistic children and youth in cooperation with Republic offices for education, Social care and health are working on decoration of the building for establishing Center for Autism as a school facility, and on construction of prefabricated building to establish Center for Autism in psychiatric hospital Jankomir as health facility. Center for Autism in Zagreb is officially open in 1983. y. and was working on two locations. In the same year the Department for Autism was open and it overtake the health care part for autistic children. Department proceeded diagnostic and differential diagnosis, treatment in state of crisis, and solving all kinds of health difficulties for children with autism and bigger difficulties in behavior. Later that Department performed expertise.
When the Center for autism was open the need for accommodation of children from other cities and parts of former Yugoslavia, and the children with difficulties in behavior appeared.
In 1986. y. accommodation was first organized for 7 – 8 students in rented rooms in high school for persons with hearing problems.
In 1987. y. stationary home was moved to Pioneering city resort. It was used by 24 -25 students and scouts in dependence, and hot meals were held in local restaurant. As the capacities was very quickly filled and crowded, the need for accommodation increased. Also there was need to dislocate students and adults with autism. In 1986. y. merged one primary school for students with intellectual difficulties that had unfilled capacities and the Center for autism that had need to expand the capacities. The building was reconstructed and the school program was transferred to that location. In the same time on original two locations were placed older users, and on the other preschool children.
Multi departmental approach (upbringing and education, social protection and heath) and systematically connected services of all three sectors guarantied quality and modern approach to autism and good rehabilitation results. Center for Autism in Zagreb, in late eighties, was example of good practice recognized even today by those who came to see that model in Zagreb.
Soon before the war started construction of bigger family home – seaside resort. Before the war it was built in roh-bau model, but during the war was destroyed.
In 1990. y. was finished dislocated Department for Autism in Nova Gradiška, for the children from Slavonia. That Department was, even before it started to work, destroyed by grenades.
Before the war was purchased and featured two larger apartments in Zagreb for the accommodation for children out of Zagreb. During the war all users were appropriate taken care of, although same of the staff had a war schedule in defense of the country. Those times was not easy: staying number of users in basements, shelters, obligatory blackout what was not taken good by all users, distribution of food under alerts on many locations in town, going to work under alerts…
Development of Center slowed down by the war and legal changes after establishing independent Republic of Croatia. In 1995. y. there was a significant negative changes by passing the new laws. The health department for autism was closed because the restrictions in Health care. The users of Center remained without direct supervision of psychiatrist and they started to use health service in regular procedure with more or less success. Diagnostic suffered maximum damage. The Ministry of social welfare, in the same year, quit co-finance the costs of accommodation. Since then the stationary home is financed as a home for students. Center and Association for Autism of Croatia without avail tried by ministry, by government, by parliament of Croatia, and later by National institute for protection of children, families and defenders of Croatia to return the multi departments supervision of Centers program, return of Department for Autism or formatting reference Heath Center for Autism in one of the hospitals.
Even in those difficult times, by knowledge and efforts of experts in Center, was made a new rehabilitation program for all age groups, and for the first time, for adults . By that the work with adult users with PAS got a legal basis in the Ministry of Education. In 1997. y. was made first professional and scientific research. Strong support of Educational – rehabilitee college and Institute for Education had felt.
Journal Autism started to be printed again in time when Center started working, but the publication stops during the war.
After the war were established Regional Association of Parents. In 1996. y. by initiative of Association of Parents, Center for Autism opens it’s section in Split, in 1997.y. in Rijeka, and in 2001. y. in Nova Gradiška. In plan was opening a new section of Center for Autism in Zagreb, and all over the Republic of Croatia, but the development of new sections was stopped by Ministry.
In 1994. y. the Center gets to use abandoned building of kindergarten near the school. The space was simply adapted with donations of humanitarian association from Norway. It was occupied in April of 1996. y. Stationary home for adults was moved in new rooms. Later there was a full range of construction works an upgrading of building thanks to humanitarian actions. Media networks, a lot of donators and the city of Zagreb supported humanitarian actions of Center for Autism in Zagreb and Association of Parents. Thanks to them in 2002. y. a therapeutic seaside resort was open, in 2005. y. the first workshop in community for adults with autism, in 2009. y. the second workshop, and in 2007. y. was built a “Small house” the transitional building for deinstitualization. City of Zagreb in 2012/13 made complete adaptation of stationary home for older users. Three years ago the city of Zagreb grants to Center for Autism first social apartment. Since then begins deinstitualization and work of first residential community. In 2002. y. founding rights to the center transfers from the state to City of Zagreb. Then began negotiations between two ministries: upbringing and education and social politic about resolution of structure and financing the Center for Autism, jurisdiction for some programs and age groups. They are not yet finalized. The Ministry of health joined them. Administration of the Center accepts the necessity of transformation of the Center for Autism in Zagreb, and separation of regional sections in Rijeka and Split, but not with different models of solutions and without perspective for further development. In cooperation with Associations of Parents the Center stands for multi department responsibility of welfare and approach that leads to development, but not to elimination or gradually daily of specialized services for support. Center for Autism in Zagreb addresses to developing program of United Nations (UNDP – Croatia) for professional help in thinking throw transformation of Center with next goals: compliance with existing laws, in the same time finding the possibility for continuity, and more or less vertical or horizontal connection of present programs in order to make the process of deintitualization and transferring the services to community. In that way was tried to influence on decisions about the future of Center. The project of transformation of Center is completed and presented in 2009. y. In the same time when it is formatted certain inside changes and reorganizations were made. With professional and financial support of UNDP – Croatia, the employees was educated to give support in first living community, and 20 experts for giving a service of support in regular schools. For a while that project was ignored as possible quality solution, but the Center stoical did all that it can on trail of project waiting for final decision.
On that path Center acquires circles of support, and they started to advocate that project. Today it become subject of negotiations and possible solution. The Center is trying to get resources by pre-accession funds of EU in order to completely conduct deinstitualization. Unfortunately the first attempt was not recognized as enough relevant content for Republic of Croatia.
Now first normative for services of day centers and accommodation in department of Social Politic, for all age groups with autism, are made. Finally autism is recognized as special category of developing disorder in Department of Social Politic.
Autism is recognized as special category of damage, and in documents related to expertise of damage in health care, and for expertise of social rights (inclusive supplement). All that did not come into place by itself. Behind that are many years of lobbying from part of Association of Parents, and from the part of experts in Center for Autism and Educational – rehabilitee college. The world day of autism awareness held annually in Zagreb and in other cities where Associations of Parents are active, marking the Day of United Nations on 2012 in Center, and even great media campaign related to humanitarian action in this year are small steps to change awareness of competent structures, whole society, and even the position of children and persons with autism who are living among us. Center for Autism supported Association for Autism – Zagreb in establishing first living communities in front of non-governmental sector three years ago, as it welcomed establishment of special sections in kindergarten and given professional help in integration of students with autism in regular schools. The needs are greater than available services, and that will remain so unless systematical thinking for new capacities starts.
A Center for Autism was long ago opted to give a hand of support to those users who, because it’s grade of disorder, are unable to find adequate service on the other place. They need the place to be educated, rehabilitated, to work and live. We hope that we will have the chance to mark fiftieth anniversary of Center for Autism in Zagreb.
Today the Center for Autism in Zagreb have 355 participants of wich 236 with disorders in autistic spectrum in all age groups. In the Center still works primary school for students with intellectual difficulties as separate section with 119 students.
Center in Zagreb works on eight locations, and still have sections in Rijeka, Split and Nova Gradiška. In summer resort in Seline every summer stays over hundred children and adults with autism. Every day transport of users performs in Zagreb for over 60 clients, while Rijeka and Split transports students to school with only one van.
The youngest user still haven’t three years and the eldest fifty four years.
The list of those who are waiting to be enrolled is big. Early intervention is still being implemented by project of Association of Parents. The Center have specialized experts for early intervention, but still haven’t got the permit to perform that activities.
Center for Autism in Zagreb is not ordinary school. That is the place of hope and refuge for many wounded souls and source of courage for families. That is the place where employees are leaving all the best from themselves.
Ivica Dokleja, prof.
Director of the Centar for Autism Zagreb