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(Bulgaria) DW: Bulgaria sees increase in autism; little information

Nov 2, 2021, People on autism spectrum in Bulgaria seek understanding

Antonio Petkov says he can't remember when he first heard that he was autistic. The 19-year-old has what experts call high-functioning autism — he has no physical impairments, can communicate with other people and lives independently. Since graduating from school in the summer, he has worked as a systems administrator at a software company. All the same, the world can feel incredibly complicated, he told DW. "I've always had problems when I have to talk to people, when something doesn't go according to plan, when people don't follow rules and when there's change," he said, adding that he has a hard time approaching people and talking to them. "I worry about what they think about and expect from me."…

Tsvetelina Georgieva, a 29-year-old woman who lives in a housing complex made of prefabricated buildings on the outskirts of Sofia with her father, is in a situation similar to Petkov's. She enjoys Bulgarian folk music and going for walks, but gets anxious about speaking to people. "I don't know what they will ask me, I don't know what to say and have trouble asking questions," she told DW. She often needs time to sort out her thoughts and respond to a question, and she finds it annoying when people interrupt her….

There is no official estimate as to how many autistic people there are in Bulgaria. The 2019-20 school year listed about 25,000 school children with special challenges. The number of people on the autism spectrum outside the school system and among adults who have never been diagnosed is an unknown. The US health protection agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates that autism affects one in 54 children worldwide. Yet it is still a relatively unfamiliar phenomenon and people diagnosed as autistic and their families can often feel a sense of shame. "The biggest problem for most people, that is 80% of parents, relatives and children affected in Bulgaria, is getting reliable information," says Barokova, adding that the second biggest problem is access to therapy and support services. There is no cure for autism, but people on the autism spectrum can learn to train their social and communication skills. In the early 2000s Bulgaria began providing autism therapy at centers like the one run by Ana Andonova. She has a child on the spectrum, so she knows from experience that "structure, rules and routine in all areas of life are incredibly important." The children should not be isolated, or given preferential or special treatment — they need social contact, rules and boundaries, she says. "It's important for autistic people to practice social interaction over and over again."…


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