For those of you who do not know, we currently live in Denmark where my husband and I are working on our graduate degrees. We moved here in the summer of 2010 and our original plan was to live here for a few years and not only finish our degrees but also gain some work experience in a foreign country. However, when the news of our son’s autism diagnosis struck, everything changed and suddenly our future plans were up in the air.
At first, we were relieved to be living in Denmark as it has a reputation of a superb social system. Further, news from Iceland weren’t the most positive as the nation was still suffering from the financial crisis that famously hit Iceland with more force than most other countries. People were talking about huge cuts in the Icelandic public health care system as well as the educational system, something that didn’t sound too promising for us to move back to at this point. However, we missed our families and friends in Iceland terribly and wanted nothing more than to move back to Iceland to be closer to them and have easier access to their love and support but we still had one year left of our studies and it was not an option to quit.
As the weeks and months went by and we got a deeper understanding of the service available for autistic children in Denmark as well as familiarizing ourselves with what was offered in Iceland, we began to realize the quality of service in Iceland. In Denmark, parents of autistic children are recommended to apply for certain kindergartens that are in every way like any other kindergarten except that they have an extra department called ‘basis-gruppe‘, consisting of a small group of children (usually 6) that all have an autism diagnosis and this group of children is supported by 3 or 4 play school teachers. As there are very few children per employee, this is a rather supportive system that evolves around the method of TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children). However, there is a waiting list for such institutions and the maximum extra support available for children that go to normal kindergartens is 16 hours per week. After our older son, JA, got diagnosed he only got 7 hours per week in support!
In Iceland, the system is rather different. There are no special institutions for children with autism at the kindergarten level. If suspicion arises that a child may have autism, it is sent to a pre-diagnosis and after that it has the possibility of up to 4 hours per day of one-on-one support. After getting a “proper” autism diagnosis, all children have the right to the minimum of 7 hours per day of one-on-one support. Further, you can choose between the methods of TEACCH and ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis), the latter being something that we are very interested in but is not an available method in Denmark.
Admittedly, the Icelandic way sounded more appealing to us. As our son has highly functioning autism, we did not see it as a necessity to remove him from his “normal” kindergarten, where he already had a few good friends and had developed a strong relationship with some of the staff – but he’d only gotten 7 hours of extra support through the Danish social system and that wouldn’t change unless he’d get a spot at a special institution.
But the support system wasn’t the only reason we were seriously thinking about moving back to Iceland. Firstly, both our sons (but particularly our younger one, V) have had problems in linguistic development, something very common for children with ASD. Having them struggle with a second language was surely not helping them and moving back to Iceland would mean that everyone around them would be speaking their mother language day in and day out and then they could just focus on that. Secondly, then we would have all of our closest friends and family around us, something not only good for the boys but also for my husband and I.
After contemplating for a short while, we made the decision to move back to Iceland at the end of next summer (2012) after finishing our graduate degrees. It was a tremendous relief and joy that followed the decision and we are looking so much forward to moving back home.