Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Autism Reality - Australian Dad Pleads For Help For Institutionalized Adult Son

An Australian Dad is pleading for help for his autistic teen aged son who has been residing in a psychiatric care facility for the past two weeks after suffering an outbreak of aggression and hallucination. The problem is a lack of facilities with trained personnel in the Australian city of Victoria who can deal with his son's deficits. His son is in a seclusion room in the facility with no routine, no structure - essentially incarcerated. Chris's story in Australia differs little from similar stories in New Brunswick, Canada.

Swanston Centre Geelong Hospital

Here we have a smattering of group home facilities run by private operators and a psychiatric hospital (Centracare). I have been to Centracare in Saint John, New Brunswick and saw an adult autistic male in barely sufficient hospital garb in a seclusion room with a wet floor, just as his father had described seeing him on a previous visit as we drove to the facility.

The conditions there are much as described by this Australian Dad and just as heart wrenching. After Centracare our Province of New Brunswick has sent autistic youths to reside on the grounds of a youth correctional facility and exported autistic youths and adults to residential treatment facilities outside the province and even outside the country in neighboring Maine, USA.

For some autistic youths and adults, particularly those with actual Autism Disorder, such institutional life is their future.

Dad's plea for help with autistic son

Michaela Farrington

TEARS filled Wally Hannam's eyes yesterday as he described watching his autistic teenage son ``pacing like a caged animal'' in Geelong's Swanston Centre.

The Belmont father said his 16-year-old son Chris had been in the psychiatric care centre for two weeks, after he began hallucinating and became agitated. But he said his much-loved teenage child did not belong in a facility designed to provide acute psychiatric care for adults.

``It's so inappropriate for Chris to be there,'' Mr Hannam said yesterday, ``But he's stuck there.

``He's been there now for 13 nights.''

Mr Hannam is campaigning to have Chris moved to a facility for young people, where medical staff were used to caring for people with autism.

He was horrified to learn there wasn't a bed available anywhere in Victoria in a facility that could provide for Chris' needs _ his autism and his mental illness.

``The seclusion room where he is at now is driving him out of his skull, because he's locked up,'' he said, ``He doesn't understand.

``With autism, you need structure, you need routine, you need quiet.

``But yesterday, there were patients in there hitting the walls, banging to doors, screaming.

``It's an appalling situation.''

He said Swanston Centre staff had tried hard to make Chris comfortable, but they were just not equipped to help him.

Mr Hannam has devoted his life to caring for Chris, who also has an intellectual disability.

Until recently, the 16-year-old was happy at home with his pet chooks, climbing trees, riding his bike, going bird watching with his dad and chatting to the neighbour over the fence.

But he began hallucinating in recent months and became unsettled.

Mr Hannam sought medical help for his son, who had lost interest in everything.

``It's really taken hold of him. It's like it has robbed him of his personality,'' Mr Hannam said.

``It's heartbreaking.''

But while doctors searched for the right treatment, Chris grew more aggressive, lashing out, until Mr Hannam could no longer cope.

He agreed to admit his son to the Swanston Centre for a day or two until a bed in a more appropriate facility became available.

Two weeks on and the family is still waiting.

Barwon Health's clinical director of community and mental health Dr Tom Callaly yesterday agreed the centre was not the best long-term solution for Chris.

He said Barwon Health was seeking more appropriate care options.

But an exhausted Mr Hannam has begun to despair.

``I just want to pull the kid out of there now, but I realise that would just make things worse.''


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