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View from the street: Will our council stand up and help autism community?

PUBLISHED: 08:00 03 June 2018

Luke Patrick Dixon Photography

Will the council now listen to the autism community?

The election of a new Labour Council in Haringey pledged to “redesign adult social care” has raised hopes of a new dawn for the autism community.

As the mother of a young man with autism, severe learning disabilities and epilepsy, I am only too well aware of the damaging impact of the policies pursued by the outgoing council. Official estimates suggest that there are about 2,000 adults with autism in the borough, a number increasing each year as 50 autistic children enter adulthood. Yet in 2015 Haringey closed down its only dedicated autism day centre at Roundway leaving one small autism unit with 15 places.

I am alarmed to hear council officers continuing to justify the closure of day centres on the grounds that this encourages greater independence and reflects the wishes of current service users.

But the council’s own consultation exercise revealed that 85 per cent of local people opposed these closures.

Independent research carried out in 2014 by myself and Sarah Miller, who runs the Markfield Centre, and Anna Nicholson of the National Autistic Society, confirmed that people with autism and their families held day centres in very high regard.

The previous council ignored the views of families like ours who rely on support services. Will the new council listen?

Will they listen to my friend Grace, from Tottenham, whose 48-year old daughter used to attend the Roundway day centre?

When Roundway closed she moved to another day centre in Walthamstow.

But earlier this year she was excluded from this centre because the staff couldn’t cope with her autism. She has transferred to a supported living scheme where Grace says “we have to rely on staff who don’t have proper training or the skills to organise special day activities for her”.

Will they listen to Catherine, whose 25-year old son lives in the family home? He too was transferred to an out-of-borough centre until a few weeks ago when his mother was phoned to come and pick him up: “they said that they couldn’t cope with his challenging behaviour and that he couldn’t come back”. He is now back at home all day and relies on visiting carers. Catherine says “he needs a local day centre – and so do I”.

The closure of local day centres makes life more difficult for people with autism and their families.

They lose contact with friends. Increased stress results in physical and mental illness for all the family. Loss of contact with trained staff means that ill-health – and cases of neglect and abuse – are less likely to be detected. Those in supported living are denied access to council day provision.

In the course of the recent local elections, prospective councillors pledged support for a dedicated autism centre in Haringey.

This would provide a base for day activities and a safe space to meet friends. It could also offer an information hub for parents and carers and help with access to local services for health, training, employment, housing, leisure.

We hope that the new council leadership will abandon the dogmatic and cynical policies of the previous regime and listen to the voices of people with autism and their families.

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