Flintshire parents protest against plans to close children’s autism centre
ANGRY parents and protesters gathered outside County Hall to voice their anger over plans to close the county’s only specialist autism centre.
The Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) centre based at Buckley’s Westwood Primary School teaches autistic children linguistic, cognitive, social and self-help skills by breaking them down into small tasks which are taught in a structured way.
It was set up by Flintshire and Wrexham councils with funding from the Welsh Assembly.
But the centre has gone from teaching 12 students to six, and next year there will only be two.
Users of the facility say the falling numbers are a result of a cynical ploy by Flintshire County Council to dissuade parents from using the centre, which costs about £200,000 a year to run.
Beverley Mathias, whose five-year-old son Elliot attends the centre, said the council needs to think about long-term costs.
“The county council is doing everything it can to run it into the ground,” she added.
“The ABA unit can mean the difference between a child growing up independent or not, so the council needs to look at the long-term costs of dependent adults instead.”
More than 1,000 people have signed the petition against the closure, which was handed to council leader Arnold Woolley.
A final decision was due to be made on Tuesday by the council’s executive committee, but it has now been put back to September.
Cllr Woolley spoke to protesters, trying to reassure them a decision had not yet been made and consultation was still ongoing.
Flintshire Labour leader Cllr Aaron Shotton told protesters his party would support them in their fight to keep the centre open.
Campaigner Simon Johnson told the Chronicle: “The ABA unit has been a unique and invaluable resource to children with autism.
“The proposal to close it from Flintshire council is based on unfounded claims, flawed evidence and misinformation, and its handling of the whole process has been nothing short of scandalous.”
Buckley councillor Carol Ellis, the authority’s executive member for social services, said she is determined to vote in favour of keeping the unit open following a tour of the facility and meetings with parents.
She added: “It shouldn’t be about money. I have met teachers and parents and it is clear there are some real success stories.”