Leo Andrade-Martinez is a mother of 3 from Islington, London and 16 months ago her world was turned upside down when her son, Stephen 19 who has severe autism was placed into a psychiatric unit at St Andrew's Hospital, Northampton, which is 80 miles from their Islington home.
Leo with the help of leading Autism Campaigner, Kevin Healey has started a Change.org petition in which she calls for the powers to be to bring her son nearer home and to be correctly placed in a residential setting with professionals who have training in Autism.
Leo states in her petition:
"I'm calling for NHS islington & islington Social services to bring my son closer to our family home, not have him hundreds of miles away!"
Leo explains in her petition that Stephen was at Acorn Park Residential School in Norfolk for two years but that in February last year Acorn Park told her that they could no longer provide care for Stephen resulting in the family only having 2 weeks to find Stephen a new placement.
"Social Services told us that the best place to put my son would be at St. Andrews. We were assured at the time that it was an autism unit. We were also told medications would be stopped along with a special diet, psychological intervention and therapy being put in place. Needless to say none of this happened."
Stephen at present is in a self-harming ward, not an autism specialist unit and as Leo clearly states, this is not acceptable, he has autism, he is not mentally ill.
What is particularly heart-breaking is that Stephen has no social life; he is locked up 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
"Stephen is locked up 24:7. If my son is not having a good day or is unsettled they won't take him out into the grounds, this is a huge space which Stephen would love. He goes for weeks and months without going outside into the grounds. For the past 15 months he has not been taken out into the community."
This situation is barbaric. Here is a young man who needs specialist autism intervention and professionals who know and understand him and instead he has been placed into a psychiatric unit were the staff have no knowledge or training around autism. This is unacceptable. Stephen's basic human rights are not being met at all. How can this be allowed to happen in this day and age? The rights of Leo as a mother are also not being taken into consideration; her wishes for her son have been totally disregarded.
Leo's story deeply affects me. I have a young son who has Autism and although only 6 I do worry about his future and how things will change when he becomes a young man. Will my voice no longer be heard just as Leo's has been silenced? Will his human rights be disregarded and violated? This frightens me tremendously.
Leo wants Stephen to leave St. Andrews and to be nearer home and to be correctly placed into a residential setting that cares for young adults with severe autism.
Leo ends her petition by saying:
"Please help my family but most of all help my son."
Stephen is a happy and bright young man, full of energy and love and there is an extremely strong and special bond between him and Leo. This young man has so much to offer society and he should be enjoying life. Instead he has in essence been locked up and kept away from the rest of the world. Leo is not accepting this and neither should we.
You can follow Leo's campaign on twitter by using the hashtag of #bringstephenhome
To view the petition by Leo on the Change.org website please click here