This morning a friend sent me a story from the BBC ; to say that I am shocked and appalled would be putting it mildly. In short, France still views — and therefore treats — autism as a psychological disorder, rather than a neurological one.
The French system relies on Freudian psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, and rejects the much more widely-adopted — and effective — ABA therapy. The result, as one might expect, is that French children do far more poorly than children elsewhere who live in countries where ABA therapy is the primary basis of the treatment regimen.
"In the UK there are 17 times more university students with autism than in France. It is unacceptable." — Daniel Fasquelle, Member of French Parliament
This reliance on psychotherapy rather than behavior therapy points to an underlying perception that autism is some form of character defect on the part of parents and child alike. It means treating the personality, rather than modifying the behaviors that so dramatically affect the lives of those with autism.
At present, there are no therapies to treat the neurological manifestations of autism, though I do believe those will come in time. Until then, ABA and a few other accepted, proven therapies (e.g., Greenspan's Floortime) represent the best chance for children with autism to lead better lives. It is devastating to think that in a modern country like France, ASD children would not be able to get the help they need because of such a fundamental misperception.