Wales

Fight to save autism centres in Barry and Buckley

Bev Mathias and son Elliot
Image caption Bev Mathias says her son Elliot has made 'phenomenal' progress at Westwood

Parents are fighting to save two centres at opposite ends of Wales which help autistic children.

A protest group is opposing the proposed closure of an autism centre which provides therapy and teaching at a school in Buckley, Flintshire.

Meanwhile a mother in the Vale of Glamorgan wants to save a facility for disabled children in Barry.

National Autistic Society Cymru said it was a tough time for councils but local needs had to be assessed thoroughly.

Parents are campaigning against plans to shut a unit at Westwood community school in Buckley, which provides specialist therapy and teaching for up to 10 children.

Flintshire and Wrexham council provide the service and launched a consultation, saying it was becoming unviable due to pupil numbers.

Parent Bev Mathias of Caergwrle, near Wrexham, said improvements to her son, Elliot, five, were "phenomenal" since he started at the centre two years ago.

"I know other parents who feel the same," said Mrs Mathias, who believes the school could be used by more children if it is better advertised.

The Buckley unit teaches children using a method called Applied Behavioural Analysis and requires "intensive 1:1 adult input", according to a Flintshire council report.

The report said that while an appropriate form of intervention, as recognised by the National Autistic Society, it was only one of many methods and its success rate varied depending on individual needs.

Education officials propose to close the centre by September and "provide a broader programme for pupils" elsewhere.

Parents have set up an online petition and a Facebook group as part of their campaign.

Tom Davies, Flintshire council's head of development and resources, said the report to the council executive on 15 March agreed to the consultation with parents and staff.

"Responses to the consultation will be returned by the end of term, and reported to members," he said.

"The decision will then be taken by the executive whether or not to publish a statutory notice proposing the closure."

'Devastated'

Wrexham council has also been asked to comment.

In the Vale of Glamorgan, the mother of an autistic boy has written to Prime Minister David Cameron to ask him to help keep a facility for disabled children open.

Mei Wong, from Penarth, said she was "devastated" to hear the Smart Club in Barry was to close because of cutbacks.

She takes her son Andy, eight, to the Saturday morning club every week.

He also received "respite care overnight to give me and my family a night's break", every fortnight.

In her letter to Mr Cameron, Ms Wong wrote: "The purpose-built facility was opened less than a year ago at some considerable cost so surely it is not too much to ask to keep it open?"

Downing Street said it had not yet received the letter.

Vale of Glamorgan council said: "This is an unfortunate situation and in an ideal world the council would not have to cut any services.

"However our budgets are being reduced and we are having to make some unpleasant decisions."

Shirley Parsley, national co-ordinator for National Autistic Society Cymru, said: "There is no denying that it is exceptionally tough time for local authorities but there are long-term cost benefits in providing individuals and families with the right support at the right time.

"Before local authorities take any decisions about the future of local services, it's vital they avoid a false economy by working with families to thoroughly assess local need and the impact cuts could have on the local community."

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