Finding Autism Support in Switzerland

Listening to multiple perspectives of parents on their journey through the diagnosis process and finding support is important. This time we are joined by a parent whose son was diagnosed in Switzerland and is able to share the supports that work for her child.


I’d like to introduce Vantika Singh who is the mother of a 6-year-old boy on the Autism spectrum. She started her career as a print media journalist at a Delhi-based corporate magazine and later moved to Mumbai as the Communications Head at Deloitte Consulting India Pvt. Ltd. Vantika is currently based in Zurich and has recently co-founded Magic Dots Events.


Vantika’s Story in Her Own Words


Advay, my six-year-old son, was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) at the age of three. It was a difficult time for me to accept and realize what this condition meant and how big the impact would be on my psyche and lifestyle.


At the beginning of this process, the doctors at the Kinderspital (child hospital) in Zurich advised me to have a thorough check-up when my son was 1.5 years old. After 1.5 years of a grueling wait, the diagnosis was confirmed. Advay had Autism.


During the diagnosis process, I consumed as much information as possible to help understand what was going to happen next. You may be at the beginning of this process and wondering what to expect. I would like to share with you the lessons I learned along the way.



Diagnosis


The process of getting your child diagnosed was initiated by our child’s pediatrician. He or she will access the child’s developmental delays and refer to a specialist at the child’s hospital. There is a specialized team of doctors and researchers who monitor your child regularly and then confirm the diagnosis. It is a long process and can take about 1-1.5 years. My son was diagnosed at the age of 3.


I find myself lucky to be in a country that has a strong and steady support system for Autistic kids. In fact, I was glad to learn about a special school in Urdorf which teaches and trains Autistic kids to be more independent and responsive in their day-to-day activities. It also has an Autism Advisory Cell which provides a free consultation to kids, adults, and their parents facing this condition.


Finding Support


I suggest finding out more about what’s happening and what you can do to cope with the business of living life in order to move completely out of the denial phase. The biggest form of support that you can offer yourself and your family is by accepting and reaching out to support groups in your vicinity – and that can only happen when you make a start. In this age of social media, you can easily spot such groups. There are several non-profit organizations throughout Switzerland that offer their services. Some of them include:


* ASK (All Special Kids) based in Geneva offers programs driven by the needs of the parents, their child, and the professionals in this field. It provides support for learning differences and special educational needs faced by the child.


* Geneva Centre for Autism helps in finding access to financial assistance to parents who choose to take up their range of services.


* Foundations for Learning based in Zurich offers consulting, therapy, diagnosis, and tutoring for a wide range of individuals.


Identify with groups on social media. There are also many closed and open support groups on Facebook and other virtual forums formed by people who are facing similar issues.


It would be wise to use such platforms to discuss, seek guidance and gather information. They help you organize play dates with kids and offer some time for parents to de-stress, especially mothers who are desperately seeking mental and emotional support. These groups give a sense of community and belonging to people who feel isolated from the social setup.


OVA Suisse is an open group and you can ask to join Parenting Children with Special Needs with Switzerland on Facebook.


Acceptance and Support


I strongly urge parents who face a similar situation to accept your child’s condition with an open heart. It was important for me to respond to my child’s needs and relate to the special little world that he depends on. The earlier the intervention, the greater the possibility for your child to progress and be better at adapting to the surroundings around him.


There are many ways by which one can offer support to their child facing ASD. Developing communication in any form is a major goal that needs to be accomplished along with other developmental delays that the child faces.


FIAS and ABA


We were made aware of ABA Therapy and FIAS in Basel. We opted for FIAS – Frühintervention bei Autistischen Störungen. FIAS provides intensive training for three weeks to the entire family including the autistic child and the respective parents. It focuses on making the child more independent and offers hands-on training for the parents to help them support and be more responsive to the changing needs and temperament of their child.


On the other hand, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy that can improve social, communication, and learning skills through positive reinforcement. The therapists usually speak German, so you would have to put in a request for an English speaking professional. One can avail of the ABA therapy by contacting the state-sponsored therapy center. The contact for all therapists can be obtained from the child’s pediatrician.


The state also sponsors Play Therapy which enables the child to develop better motor skills, learn music, art and crafts, and much more. Ergotherapy (occupational therapy) is another option that one can consider taking to help the child achieve independence in all aspects of his/her life. It enhances a child’s self-help skills, such as self-feeding, grooming, and dressing along with enhancing sensory integration skills. There is a help center for kids, the Kinderpraxis in every neighborhood which provides these services for special needs.


Autism Service Dogs



Autistic children often prefer nature, animals, or music to human contact and interaction, which can at times overwhelm their senses.


Stiftung Schweizerische Schule für Blindenführhunde is a non-profit foundation based in Allschwil (canton Basel) that provides Autism Service Dogs to individuals and families in Switzerland dealing with Autism.


Gèrard Guye, who heads the chair of management, administration, and PR at the foundation told us more about the services of the foundation.


Advay’s Logopädin Julia Winzenried had pointed out why this therapy is so essential for autistic kids, “Our primary goal is to form an association between the autistic children and their favorite toy, activity, snack etc. This really helps them to learn to communicate and that is why it is worth the effort. These children must understand a way to express what is going on in their minds that other people fail to understand. They can express themselves and communicate with the help of pictures, body signs or words. If they learn this, it enhances their self-confidence and the parents feel positive too.”


Snoezelen Therapy


This is one approach that offers a controlled multisensory environment for people with autism and other developmental disabilities, dementia, or brain injury.

The Snoezelen Room is created on the basic principle of placing the person in a soothing and stimulating environment. These spaces are specially designed to deliver stimuli to the concerned person’s various senses by using lighting effects, colors, sounds, music, etc.


The child is always accompanied to the Snoezelen Room with an aide or an enabler who needs to be closely involved with the child and the multi-sensory environment. This ensures an atmosphere of trust and relaxation. This stimulating environment does not aim to teach specific skills to the child but provides the child with a general feeling of resting and quiet. The child has the opportunity for relaxation, restoration, and refreshment without any pressure and can enjoy the stimuli and sensory experience to the fullest.


The research and studies carried out on the basis of this therapy in Belgium have shown positive results. There was a 50% decrease in distress and a 75% decrease in aggression and self-injury when nine severely autistic kids were placed in a Snoezelen environment.


A small Snoezelen corner can be created in the room of every autistic child by placing a mirror, fiber optic light bundles, bubble tubes, essential oils, waterbed, and a play tunnel. This helps them explore the artificially created environment full of visual stimuli without any stress and anxiety.


My son Advay has this facility at his school, Stiftung Kind und Autismus in Urdorf. It really helps him calm down and enjoy the spatial configurations and stimulus arrangements along with some tactile fun. This also helps encourage verbal and non-verbal communication, boosts self-esteem and the children have an increased understanding of the cause and effect relationship.


I’d recommend that Autistic families certainly try out this approach. It’s worth it!


For more information on Autism and the support systems mentioned in this article, please contact me by email - vantika.singh@gmail.com


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