Five hundred families in Mid Ulster have been left in limbo by a row between the local Autism Support Group Committee and Autism NI, it was claimed this week.
SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone called on the chief executive and chairperson of Autism NI to meet the local committee members with a view to resolving the internal dispute.
It erupted earlier this month after Autism NI decided to terminate the Mid Ulster Volunteer Support Group Committee.
They claimed in a letter to committee chairperson Mary Margaret Love, from Ballyronan, that there has been a “complete breakdown in the relationship of trust and confidence.”
It is understood relations broke down after the volunteers disagreed with new rules they claim were introduced without consultation.
Mrs Love said families needing help, support and advice on a 24/7 basis have been left “in limbo” following the decision to axe the committee.
“A new rule book had been introduced for support groups without consultation and the Mid Ulster Committee had asked for clarification on several matters through the Family Support Group Officer at a meeting in April but these had not been satisfactorily addressed,” said Mrs Love.
“Neither the board, or any other staff member had met with the committee since April and this letter has come as ‘a bolt out of the blue.’”
A spokesperson for Autism NI said it was important to stress that the Autism NI - Mid Ulster Support Group was not being disbanded.
“We want to assure families that the group will continue to operate and provide much needed support to families in the local area. It will be run by our Family Support Team until a new Committee can be established,” said the spokesperson.
“Autism NI will continue to provide much needed early intervention services in the Mid Ulster area with our newly appointed Parent Liaison Officer and two Autism Resource Officers. Families also have access to our Helpline which takes over 3,000 calls every year.”
Mr McGlone was of the opinion that the local committee had been treated “really, really badly”.
He said the charity board should have come down and spoken to the volunteers as they are “deeply dedicated” people who have done great work for Autism NI over the years. “It is like using a sledge hammer to crack a small nut,” he said. “It’s a bit like a firm terminating one of its most successful, money making enterprises. I hope the situation is not beyond repair.”
Mid Ulster people have dug deep into their pockets in recent years for Autism NI, raising an estimated £120,000 to support the activities of the local group.