Some 500 children who are on the autism spectrum, but are sufficiently high-functioning as to be integrated into regular kindergartens, are not receiving health-promoting treatments they are entitled to by law.
According to experts in the field, such after-hours treatment has vital significance for acquiring social and cognitive skills, but only 200 out of 700 who are in the system are currently receiving such treatment, at only eight centers around the country.
Last week, a mother of a child on the spectrum, along with Alut, the non-profit Israeli Society for Children and Adults with Autism, filed a petition with the High Court of Justice with regard to this matter. They asked the court to instruct the Ministry of Health to explain why it does not approve and finance the opening of additional treatment centers for children aged three to seven who are integrated into regular kindergartens. The parents of these children argue that the ministry channels these children away from regular kindergartens.
The integrated children are relatively high-functioning on the autistic spectrum, which enables them to attend regular schools, with some assistance. They are entitled to 14.5 hours of extra after-hours help a week, according to the national health law.
According to Alut, this costs 90,000 shekels ($24,000) a year per child, amounting to an additional 45 million shekels for the 500 children currently excluded from these programs. Another 4,000 children on the spectrum go to 600 “communications kindergartens” in the special needs educational stream, where they receive the extra enrichment.
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The petition says that the Health Ministry is not opening new treatment centers for budgetary reasons, thus discriminating against children who are integrated in regular institutions. “The ministry does not approve new programs in order to avoid the expenses incurred,” says the petition.
The extra programs enable these children to be functionally independent, as well as strengthening skills that will let them obtain further education and integrate into society. The programs include children and their parents, with many professionals involved, such as behavior analysts, communications clinicians, psychologists, occupational therapists and creative and expression therapists. “Experts say that the treatment and acquisition of social and cognitive skills have great impact on the development of children on the spectrum, especially in their early years,” says the petition.
According to attorney Moti Arad, from the Ron, Gazit, Rotenberg Law Office, who is representing Alut pro bono, “the health ministry is evading the transfer of vital funds for delivering essential treatment for autistic children who are integrated into regular kindergartens, thereby pushing them into the special needs educational stream which suits them less well and costs the state more. We hope the High Court instructs the ministry on how to proceed, and then the funds will be found. It’s too bad children and their parents have to suffer in the meantime.”
The Health Ministry says that it has not yet seen the petition and that when it does it will respond to the petition in court.