Malta's autism acceptance law / by Erich Kofmel

In May 2016, Malta became the first country to adopt an autism acceptance law, the "Persons within the Autism Spectrum (Empowerment) Act", passed by Parliament and subsequently enacted by the President and published in the Government Gazette. Autistic Minority International was consulted by the Maltese Government, through the good services of an autistic self-advocate from Malta, and was able to provide input on the draft bill earlier that year, including the suggestions to aim for autism acceptance, not just awareness, acknowledge the existence of undiagnosed adults on the autism spectrum, and promote research into ageing on the autism spectrum.

Provisions that may now serve as a model for similar legislation in other countries and jurisdictions include the mandate of the soon to be established Autism Advisory Council to "create awareness raising initiatives for the general public inter alia to achieve autism acceptance within society" and "focus on the need to improve identification of undiagnosed adults within the autism spectrum through a person-centre[d] diagnostic approach, addressing also the topic of autism and ageing", and to "give advice on [...] the promotion of self-determination of persons within the autism spectrum" as well as "the enhancement of access to appropriate support services and equal opportunities for inclusion and participation in society".

In addition, the Autism Advisory Council, which is to include at least one autistic adult, will aim "to empower persons within the autism spectrum by providing for their health, education, well-being and participation in all aspects of society and the betterment of their living conditions; [...] maximize the potential for children and adults within the autism spectrum through their personal autonomy and active citizenship; [...] and [...] identify the socio-economic, psycho-educational and health needs of persons within the autism spectrum with a view for Government to address these needs."

Also on the positive side, we note that the Act avoids speaking of "persons with autism" in favour of "persons within the autism spectrum". Unfortunately, the Act lacks strong provisions with regard to employment, due to domestic political considerations, and it places a misguided focus on early interventions, without paying attention to their potentially abusive nature and frequent disrespect for children's autistic identity.

An Autism Support State Plan and further regulations are to set out the details.