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Fresh hope for saving Suffolk's autism services after 'positive meeting'

PUBLISHED: 09:55 29 November 2016 | UPDATED: 09:55 29 November 2016

Suffolk County Council's Gordon Jones

Suffolk County Council's Gordon Jones

Archant

Parents, charities and council chiefs have held "very positive" talks over the future of one of Suffolk's threatened autism services.

The talks were held on Friday following the recent announcement that Autism Suffolk was to close next year due to funding issues.

Clare Kingaby-Lewis, whose petition urging Suffolk County Council (SCC) to reconsider its funding cuts to the service has gathered nearly 2,500 signatures, attended the meeting with representatives of SCC, Autism Suffolk National Autistic Society (NAS) and Suffolk Parent Carer Network. Mrs Kingaby-Lewis, whose 10-year-old son Samuel is autistic, said the meeting was “a very positive step in the right direction”.

She added: “We’ve agreed to work together to find a future for the service that will work.”

SCC had been decreasing its funding over recent years with the aim for Autism Suffolk to find other streams from next year onward. Having failed to do so, the service, run by NAS, announced this month that it would be closing in March.

The news posed great concern for parents of autistic children, hundreds of whom were expected to be affected by the closure.

Anthony Clarke, who lives in Creeting St Mary, near Stowmarket, said the service had been the only support he and his wife Heather had been offered after their 16-year-old son Alex was diagnosed several years ago.

“With its closure parents will end up in the depths of despair,” he said after learning of the cuts.

Mrs Kingaby-Lewis, who volunteers at the Autistic Society’s Lowestoft branch, said her son’s diagnosis three years ago was “very difficult and overwhelming” even with “fantastic support” from Autism Suffolk.

“It would be a travesty if there was no support for families going forward and would quite likely end up with some in crisis,” she said. “That most certainly could be avoided.”

Gordon Jones, who is responsible for children’s services at SCC, said the council will work with Autism Suffolk and other organisations. “Our offer of time and support to assist Autism Suffolk in finding other potential funding streams has always been available and we are happy a discussion has now been had so we can continue our work to provide for children and young people with autism,” he said.

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