Holloway mother receives best ever Christmas gift as autistic son comes home after 6 years in treatment centre

Stephen Andrade.

Stephen Andrade. - Credit: Archant

A mother received the best Christmas gift possible with the end of an agonising six-year wait for her severely autistic son to be brought home from a mental health facility.

Stephen Andrade, 23, had been detained 70 miles from Holloway in an assessment and treatment unit (ATU) in Clacton-on-Sea, where he was dosed up on eight different anti-psychotic medications.

But three weeks ago he was finally released after Islington Council and NHS England finished adapting a house for him in Hillingdon, where he now receives 24-hour care.

And his long-suffering mother Leo was there to greet him.

“He was incredibly excited,” she said. “He knew he was coming home. We created a social story book for him about his new house. The carers went to get him and I was there waiting for him.”

Leo now spends £62 a week travelling to Zone 6 to see him every day.

She continued: “It’s still a bit of a stretch for me in Hillingdon but I go every day now whereas before I went once a week. I do his cooking, washing and cleaning.”

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Stephen has three carers in the day and three more at night. Leo says it is still very challenging while he adapts to his new surroundings – particularly given the appalling treatment she says he received in Essex.

“He is so much happier, but there is still so much trauma,” Leo continued. “I was prepared for some of it, but didn’t realise the extent. He has severe panic attacks and severe anxiety where he almost can’t breathe.

“On the first night when he went to bed he insisted on sleeping on the floor because that’s what the staff made him do. They said it was for his own safety. He still does it now.

“Worse than that he started walking on all fours and barking like a dog. I think other people in the ATU must have made him do that.”

Overall, though, Stephen is doing “much better” in his own home. And Leo couldn’t praise the carers highly enough.

“He looks much healthier and the care provider Certitude has been amazing. They absolutely care about people with learning disabilities and autism like my son.

“He can be extremely challenging and it’s a very stressful job but they have amazing patience and such care and love.

“The other thing is Islington Council. I can’t fault them for the last three years, they have been absolutely amazing. The care they have provided for Stephen is what a young person like him deserves.

“I hope this story can help all other families going through many hard moments who have to fight and fight to get their children the care they need.”

Leo believes the government needs to stop commissioning private companies to run ATUs and localise care for people with learning disabilities and autism, calling the millions of pounds being spent on such centres a “hidden scandal”.

She has always maintained Stephen never should have been in Clacton at the ATU run by The Priory in the first place and that the drugs were destroying him and making him catatonic. But now she’s looking to the future.

“I’m going to slowly tell him about what a good life can be and what it looks like,” she said. “No one is going to hurt him now and I have great ambitions for his future.

“Knowing he will be able to do the things he used to do, like take long walks in the forest. And who knows, he may even be able to do something else in his life.”

Christmas is set to be a low-key affair this year while Stephen gets used to being in his new home, and seeing his little brother Josh. But it’s already a much happier holiday than it has been for the family over the last few years.

Leo has signed a petition opposing the detention of people with autism in ATUs, which can be viewed here.