Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Community in Scotland builds cage for autistic teen, rather than promised play area

From The Telegraph in the UK:

The family of the 18-year-old raised £500 to cover the costs of the outdoor facility, which they hoped would include decking and play equipment.

But Western Isles Council in Scotland instead erected a narrow compound just a few feet wide from wire mesh fencing. An autism charity branded the cage “a disgrace and 100 per cent cruel”.

Council officials blamed a mix-up with suppliers over the specifications of the enclosure, which was built at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis.

The parents decided to raise funds for the play area because their son has spent almost six hours per day inside temporary accommodation with a teacher, unable to join his schoolmates outside during breaks.

Dr Alasdair Allan, MSP for the Western Isles, said: “The parents were deeply upset to see what had been constructed. It was what they describe as a small cage sitting on the grass, constructed from old barriers and fencing of the type used on building sites.”

He said the incident had cause “very understandable offence” to the family, with whom he has been in regular contact, and he has written to the council demanding an investigation.

A friend of the boy’s parents said: “They were heartbroken and horrified. They have nothing but praise for the teachers who have cared for this lad for so long, but they have enough on their plates without discovering something that looks like it came out of the orphanages of Romania.”

The Nicolson Institute is the largest school in the Western Isles, with about 1,000 pupils. The cage was taken down over the past fortnight.

But Polly Tommey, founder of charity the Autism Trust, said: “This is beyond belief. This boy should be mixing with other people and learning, not locked in a cage.”

Norman MacDonald, vice chairman of the council’s policy and resources committee, said the enclosure was the result of a communication breakdown between staff and the supplier and promised a suitable replacement would be built.

“I wish to apologise unreservedly on behalf of the council to the family of the boy involved,” he said.

“I think it is very clear to us and was very clear to the Comhairle (council) that the provision that was put in place was entirely inappropriate for the use to which it was going to be put.”