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City Opens Center for Autistic Adults

Published: December 23, 2013 (Issue # 1791)



  • Visitors to the new center take part in art therapy classes, making Christmas and New Year ornaments ahead of the holidays.
    Photo: Nadezhda Sorokina / for SPT

Antons Right Here is the name of Russias first center for creativity, education and social rehabilitation for people with autistic disorders. Offering a helping hand to adult patients suffering from this kind of illness for the first time in Russia, the center is located in St. Petersburg.

The centers name may sound rather awkward to the uninitiated, yet it makes a lot of sense to the people behind the project. The center owes its name to the title of a sobering documentary released in 2012 that told the story of an autistic boy, Anton Kharitonov, whose mother Renata had died of cancer and who ends up at a state psychiatric ward. Russias underfunded mental health system has for decades been notorious for its inexplicable brutality, prison-like conditions and the absence of any coherent treatment plan.

The Russian filmmaker Lyubov Arkus had followed Anton over a period of six years, and produced a chilling documentary, revealing dramatic insights into the challenges and daily routines of its autistic hero.

Arkus now serves as the president of the St. Petersburg branch of Vykhod (Coming Out) a foundation which supports autistic children.

The story of Vykhod began in 2012 when Avdotya Smirnova, Russian playwright and filmmaker launched the foundation.

Even a couple of years ago autism was not officially recognized in Russia as a diagnosis. We see our mission first and foremost in raising awareness about this illness, combating vicious myths and prejudice against it and assist those affected by it with various kinds of help, Smirnova said.

Autism is a global problem and an increasingly alarming one. According to a recent research conducted by the World Health Organization, every 88th child in the world is born with some form of autism. Many countries have state programs specially tailored for autistic people in place to assist with their social integration and adaptation. Russia has only begun to offer such assistance.

Russias prison-like psychiatric hospitals are overdue for reform yet the state appears in no hurry to review or modernize the system.

Using a mobile phone is forbidden in state psychiatric clinics, as is walking outdoors. Showers are allowed once a week for a maximum of 10 minutes. People are routinely sworn at and its not unheard of for them to be tied to their beds. Patients are not informed about their conditions or the details of their treatment and have no right to change doctors unless a highly qualified lawyer is involved to back up the case.

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