2012, French Autism Awareness Year

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In December, French Scientific Attache in the Consulate of France in Atlanta, Jacqueline Signorini was invited to the groundbreaking ceremony launching construction of the Yerkes Dual-Function Facility, the Emory Institute for Drug Discovery and the Center for Innovative Genetics.

From left to right: President of Emory University Jim Wagner, French consulate’s Scientific Attache, Jacqueline Signorini, British consulate’s Scientific Attache, Kerry Norton, Yerkes National Primate Research Center Director Stuart Zola at the groundbreaking on Dec. 12.

On December 20, 2011, the French Prime Minister Francois Fillon awarded the label of 2012 national awareness cause to the collective of associations: Rassemblement "Ensemble pour l’autisme" organized by the "Collectif Autisme" that gathers more than 200 parent associations and 800 facility manager associations. This label allows nonprofit organizations, wishing to organize campaigns and fundraising, to get free broadcasts on the radio and public television. The associations’ action plan includes the first parliamentary meeting on autism in the National Assembly on January 12, the World Day of Autism Awareness on April 2 and the autism Tour de France in September.

This label puts the spotlight on the main associations working in support of autism and encourages them to gather and work together. This recognition will finally give autism institutional and media visibility, thereby reaching the general public.

The awarding of this label is a continuation of the 2008-2010 plan for autism, which gathered 187 million euros ($ 239 million) and has already enabled:

- the strengthening of scientific knowledge, practices and training of professionals;

- the improvement of diagnosis and recognition of the needs of individuals;

- the promotion and diversification of the health and medical-social and experimentation with new models of support.

By making autism the 2012 national awareness cause, the Prime Minister marks the commitment of France to continue strengthening the care of individuals with autism.

Autism affects about 600,000 people in France. It can take many forms, which is why we speak of "autism spectrum disorders" that include problems for communication, social relations and behavior and sometimes mental retardation. Hundreds of different genetic anomalies creating autism have already been identified.

The care of patients is, according to the National Consultative Ethics Committee, "inappropriate" in France. "A lack of training of health professionals leads to delayed diagnosis with serious consequences (children are diagnosed on average at 6-years-old instead of 2) and parents are still oriented to inadequate psychoanalytic treatments." Finally, nearly 80% of eligible children do not attend school despite the law of February 11, 2005 which guarantees normally access mainstream school for handicapped people.

In Atlanta, the Emory School of Medicine, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and the Marcus Center study autism.