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Cromarty parents of autistic son back Haven Appeal

By Val Sweeney

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Douglas Shepherd with son Douglas (23) who is severely autistic and has special needs.
Douglas Shepherd with son Douglas (23) who is severely autistic and has special needs.

A BLACK Isle couple dedicated to caring for their severely autistic adult son say a specialist centre for children and young adults with complex needs is desperately needed in the Highlands.

Douglas Shepherd gave up his job as a landscape gardener to help his wife, Laura, care for their son because of a lack of suitable accommodation and difficulties in arranging for carers to travel to their home in Cromarty.

“We are absolutely exhausted,” said the 55-year-old whose role involves 17-hour days, seven days a week with no respite.

“Autism is a disability which is absolutely forgotten about.”

The couple, who also have a daughter, stress their experience is not unique and highlights the need for the proposed Haven Centre which would be Scotland’s first integrated centre for children and young adults with severe learning disabilities at a site in Inverness.

Ideally they want their 23-year-old son Douglas to live on the Black Isle, but believe the proposed centre with respite accommodation is the next best option.

“No one sees you when you are up until 4am or 5am and then your son goes to bed for an hour or so and then he is up again,” said Mr Shepherd, of Bayview Crescent.

“Sleep deprivation is a terrible thing. The stress on parents alone is phenomenal. That is why we feel really strongly about the Haven Centre.”

Douglas attended St Clement’s School in Dingwall until the age of 13 and was then home-schooled by Mrs Shepherd.

Two years ago, Mr Shepherd became the full-time carer after Douglas became increasingly aggressive.

One provider offered 10 hours’ care a week but this would be limited to seven hours to account for travelling time and was conditional on Douglas moving to Inverness after six months – an option the Shepherds maintain was not appropriate.

Kate Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, is backing the £4 million Haven Appeal launched by the Elsie Normington Foundation and has also been supporting the Shepherds in trying to get better care.

“Dougie and Laura Shepherd are exceptional parents whose care for their son Douglas is inspirational,” she said.

She said it demonstrated the need for flexible care as close to home as possible.

An NHS Highland spokesman said recruiting reliable staff in rural areas could be extremely difficult.

“We work hard with families and support providers and local communities to find innovative solutions to these challenges,” he said.

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