Those of you who have been following the intense debate about autism in France and who wish to judge whether Sophie Robert’s movie The Wall was caricaturing the way autism is treated in France will be interested to read the following remarks by Chantal Sicile-Kira, the mother of an autistic boy.
Sicile-Kira wrote an article called “Autism and Education in France” for the Huffington Post in June, 2010. In it she explained what happened to her when her son was diagnosed with autism in 1993.
She appears to be more hopeful than many people in France today, but her testimony confirms the influence that psychoanalysis has exercised over the way autism has been treated in France.
In her words:
In 1993, my family left France, where we had been living since 1981. Both Jeremy and his sister, Rebecca (who is neurotypical), were born in Paris at the time when children with autism were considered mentally ill, not developmentally disabled. They had no right to an education. Instead, they were enrolled in day programs on hospital sites, where they were treated with psychoanalysis. Parents had no right to visit the day program, nor did they receive any communication about what went on during the hours their child spent there.
When Jeremy showed autistic tendencies, I was told by the powers that be to take him to see a psychoanalyst. The psychoanalyst concluded that Jeremy was autistic because he suffered separation issues from breast-feeding. This the analyst gleaned from watching him spin round objects (which reminded him of his mother's breasts) and chase after one that he had "lost" when it fell and rolled under a piece of furniture.
The French genetic specialist who handed me my son's diagnosis, also handed me some advice. She told me to look for and find a good institution for Jeremy. I have -- it's called public school. On June 18th, both Jeremy and Rebecca will be graduating from high school. Jeremy will have taken seven years to do so, in comparison to Rebecca's four. I am equally proud of both of them.
I am not sharing this information to knock the French; I have heard similar stories in the UK and in the US: Parents seeking help were often blamed for their child's autism and were given no hope and no answers. The big difference however, is that back then there were no French laws allowing children with autism to be educated; and now there are.