Each year in April, many EUCAP member organisations engage in campaigning, emphasizing the need for acceptance and appreciation of autism. In Croatia, there has been hardly any autistic community until very recently, as diagnostic services for adults have become available and general awareness has developed. The change in this situation is signaled, among other things, by the founding and rapid development of the autistic people’s association ASK (Udruga za autizam i ostale neurodivergentnosti, samozastupanje i kulturu različitosti). This year, the members have focused on establishing partnerships and gaining visibility.
Kosjenka from ASK writes about the latest developments:
We have been very quiet in the past few months because we were working hard, getting ready for our first coming out in public in Croatia.
In the last couple of years, we have managed to team up, find autistic people who can speak openly about their autism, and build a wonderful volunteer and partner base.
Now that some of our first autism acceptance events are behind us, we wish to share with you some of the highlights.
We have held two online sessions for disabled people, their parents, guardians and the general public. The first was done with our partners from the Professional Rehabilitation Centre. ASK member Magdalena moderated their talk about the right to work and the ways they help disabled people to find employment, as well as the financing available from the State.
Our member Zrinka hosted an important webinar held in partnership with the Self-advocacy Association of People with Intellectual Disabilities Zagreb. Their representative explained the importance of self-advocacy and described their experiences in self-advocacy so far. These are the partners with whom we are establishing a long term partnership, in the hope of building a strong self-advocacy network across the disability communities.
Our two main events were held on the 2nd of April. In the morning we had an event called Autistics Speak – Coffee with Autistic People, with our sponsor Segafredo Coffee and Dubravica, a well-known local bakery. During the event we organised the Wheel of Stigma panel. Together with three of our autistic members, our ally from the Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences, professor Jasmina Stošić, and our autistic autism expert Maja Bonačić, we tackled known stereotypes surrounding autism. The whole event was live streamed, and there were more than 2000 people following the stream, as well as the clips created for Facebook and other social media.
The second event was held in the evening of the 2nd of April. We organised a screening of the Icelandic movie Seeing the Unseen and a panel on autistic women’s experiences and adult diagnoses in Croatia. We were very careful to mention and explain there is no ‘female autism’! It’s important to note that Croatian adults obtained access to diagnosis only two years ago.
The following week we took part in two events for students engaging in autism studies in Zagreb, as well as one for autism experts in Dubrovnik. Our member and ASK Initiative President Sunčica addressed the students, pointing out what we as autistic people feel, need and find important when talking about autism, and the narrative they are being exposed to.
I addressed various types of experts offering services and support for autistic children (there were 70 experts present and 30 parents) in Dubrovnik, talking about personal experiences with the autism industry, quack cures and the anti vaxx movement, as well as about autistic identity, disability culture, and how these have helped our family to thrive.
After all this work, we have been exhausted and very happy. It has been a lot to handle, but we feel we managed to achieve a nice momentum, with considerable radio and some TV coverage.
We want to thank all our autistic volunteers, our partners and allies for their support.
A huge thank you goes to Croatia’s Autistic community, without them, their enthusiasm, their dedicated and selfless work, all this wouldn’t be possible.