Therapy for autistic children largely donor-dependent in Latvia

Although for two years the State has provided funds for treatment for children with disabilities, it is still largely paid for by donors, Latvian Television reported on May 1.

 The responsible authorities explain that the use of budgetary resources is delayed because a completely new system needs to be introduced, which is not happening quickly. Meanwhile, the Children's Hospital Foundation has called for at least a temporary solution so patients can get help in time.

Marta will soon be four years old. Madara Nīgale, who is currently working with her, is an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy specialist. They met a year and a half ago. “She was a non-verbal child around that time. But the progress has been quite huge,” said Nīgale.

Marta has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Early therapy helps her learn both speaking and better communication with the surrounding world. “We can cure a disease, but we cannot cure autism. We can adjust behaviors, households, and so on,” said the mother of two daughters, Mairita Ristamece.

“The earlier intervention, the better the results, but of course there are children who do not start talking, and it is a question of the objectives because it is not necessary to force some sounds, but it is to improve the life of the child and the development of their communication,” Nīgale added.

Therapy helps Marta. It's harder for the older sister. About the likely autism of Marta's older sister, her parents learned only a month before Marta's birth. The two sisters regularly visit a variety of specialists, including ABA therapy. And this is paid for by the donors of the Children's Hospital Foundation.

“These are huge sums if I had to pay it from my own pocket [..]. It would be very close to a thousand a month. It's not realistic to pay,” Ristamece said.

The Children's Hospital Foundation said that more than half a million euros have been reserved for patients with an autistic spectrum disorder this year. But another 67 children are waiting for help on the line. The fund cannot promise them anything because the amount of donor funds is limited.

"Last year alone, we spent more than €400,000 of donor money on these children to support their treatments. And then, at the moment, we know that there are these public funds, over €800,000, but the children are not getting this money, so they cannot receive this public service," said Liene Dambiņa, manager of the Children's Hospital Foundation.

The Children's Hospital Foundation drew attention to the fact that as of last year, €820 thousand per year has been allocated to children with autism spectrum disorders – diagnostics and therapies. However, only a relatively small proportion of this amount was spent last year – €150,474.

The National Health Service and the Ministry of Health responded in writing, stating that the new service needs to develop an implementation mechanism and does not currently exist. But how quickly the system will be developed isn't known. The stumbling block may prove to be the attraction of specialists, for example, whether private service providers will agree to cooperate. No one gives guarantees that funds earmarked in the budget this year will come to patients with autism.

“We believe that we need to seek and find some temporary solution as soon as possible, so children can get timely help,” Dambiņa said.


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