Holloway mum hopes week-long campaign will bring autistic son home

Leo Andrade holding a picture of her autistic son.She's helped start a campaign launched by mothers

Leo Andrade holding a picture of her autistic son.She's helped start a campaign launched by mothers and family members of people with learning disabilities who are in Assessment and Treatment Units - Credit: Archant

An Islington mother whose severely autistic son is being detained in a mental health facility more than 70 miles away hopes that a week-long campaign will finally bring him home.

Leo Andrade with her sons Joshua (left) and Stephen.

Leo Andrade with her sons Joshua (left) and Stephen. - Credit: Archant

Leo Andrade, of Rixon Street, Holloway, can only afford to travel once a month to visit her 21-year-old son Stephen, who has been held in an assessment and treatment unit (ATU) in Colchester for the past 15 months after being sectioned.

Stephen was transferred there from a higher security unit in Northampton where he was held for two years alongside alcoholics and drug addicts after Ms Andrade complained.

But she claims her son’s condition has continued to deteriorate in the unit, where he is prone to self-harm due to anxiety.

“Since January he’s been going to hospital once a month with head injuries and he’s now covered in scars,” she told the Gazette.

“He could die if he stays there with the amount of drugs they give him.

“He doesn’t have a mental illness but they pump him with anti-psychotic drugs because it’s easier than finding a way to care for someone with autism.”

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She added: “For the past three and a half years I haven’t done anything with my son.

“I can’t take him to a supermarket, a restaurant or even McDonald’s – he always asks me.”

Currently, Stephen’s care costs the NHS £5,000 a week. Ms Andrade claims this amount would cover the monthly cost of a carer back at home.

On Monday Ms Andrade, along with a group of mothers and family members in the same situation, launched “Seven Days of Action”, a campaign to bring their children home. Every day this week, a blog by autism campaigner Mark Neary will feature a story from someone who has experienced life in an ATU.

An NHS England spokesman said: “Every case is different and patients’ needs are often extremely complex, but we have been clear hospitals should not be seen as homes.

“Where admission is deemed by clinicians to be in their best interest, patients should stay no longer than they need to, with pre-admission checks to ensure hospital care is the right solution, and discharge planning starting from the point of admission or before.”

The spokesman added local healthcare bosses from councils and the NHS will soon be exploring alternatives to ATUs.

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