120 chats in first month at new autism support service

Summary

The free, anonymous instant messaging service was launched by Flanders’ Autism League to provide advice to people with autism and their families

Free and friendly

A new autism chat service has provided 120 consultations in the first month. The service was set up by Flanders’ Autism League in response to a growing need for interactive online support for people with the condition and their families.

“We’re convinced that the chat service is an autism-friendly part of the support we offer,” says Jo Renty, co-ordinator of the Flemish Autism League. “It’s a visual and slowed-down form of communication, which causes little invasion into a person’s environment and offers control over external stimuli during the discussion.”

The service was launched at the end of January and is available via the Autism League’s website. It’s anonymous and free and is staffed by professional counsellors for 20 hours a week, from Monday to Thursday.

Since it began, more than 120 chats have taken place, primarily with adults with autism and the parents of children with the condition. The service also offers support and advice to children, partners, grandparents and siblings of people with autism.

Responding to a need

A report in 2016, Towards an Autism-Friendly Flanders, commissioned by Flemish health and welfare minister Jo Vandeurzen, highlighted the problems faced by people with autism in participating in society, and made several policy recommendations. The following year, the Flemish Autism Action Plan was launched, with the chat service among the actions to arise from it.

“Research has already shown that online chat is an appropriate way to reach people with autism. That’s now been demonstrated in practice,” said Vandeurzen. “The chat service allows us to offer a form of ‘bridging support’. It’s an online kiosk where people who don’t use the home counselling services can go for advice and support. It can allow questions to be answered more quickly and avoid escalation of issues. We’re responding to a clear need among people with autism. The success of the chat service shows that.”

Flanders’ Autism League is an association of four Flemish non-profit home counselling services: Victor, Tanderuis, Het Raster and Limburgse Stichting Autisme. Established in 2017, its goal is to create a formal collaboration between these services.

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