Autism mum told to 'move interstate'

Donna Bunting waited for 16 years for her son to be diagnosed with autism.
Donna Bunting waited for 16 years for her son to be diagnosed with autism.

A MANDURAH mother who went to her GP for help with her autistic son was told, “move interstate if you love your child”.

Donna Bunting went to see a GP because her son was not eating properly.

When she spoke about her son’s autism, the Mandurah GP told her to leave Western Australia if she wanted to get the best medical help for him.

Ms Bunting’s son, who does not want to be named, was diagnosed with autism after 16 years.

The exhausted single mother said her son saw multiple medical and mental health professionals over the years and none diagnosed him with autism.

Ms Bunting said she first noticed that something was wrong when, as a baby, her son “never slept”.

“I took him to the Princess Margaret hospital and they told me there was nothing wrong,” she said.

“At kindergarden they said he had a behavioural learning problem, but they didn’t offer any help or direction there.

“At pre-primary they thought he was colour-blind, so I sent him for tests and he was fine.

“By the third grade he was struggling with his schoolwork and his teachers told me not to worry as boys kick in later.

“Then eventually they said they thought he was probably dyslexic.”

Ms Bunting said that by the age of 11, her son was “depressed and suicidal”.

“In year eight he went from being happy to being depressed,” she said.

“He was put into mainstream classes and he would say that school made him feel “dumb and stupid”, he would sob and beg me not to send him to school.

“At recess he couldn’t deal with social interaction, he had light and sensory issues, he’d go into daydream states and didn’t know what was going on.

“And still no one was picking up on what it was.”

Autism Association of Western Australia executive Paul Baird said the resources in WA were just as good as in any other state.

“Both the Federal and the State Government have injected funding into raising awareness of autism spectrum disorder and support programs,” he said.

Grace Fava, of the national Autism Advisory and Support Service, said the waiting lists to be diagnosed were far longer in WA than in most other states and the resources elsewhere were better.

But she added that funding packages were more readily available in WA once a child is diagnosed.

“The waiting list is longer in WA than other states.

“The Melbourne and Sydney areas have better facilities and more service providers because you have the population on the east side and that’s where you’ll get the services,” Ms Fava said.

"But we have found that there are better funding packages in WA and the benefits are better once they are diagnosed.”

Ms Fava said that Ms Bunting’s struggle was, “unfortunately a common one” and said she was “not surprised” to hear that she had been told to move interstate by doctors.

“It’s a lack of education among doctors.

“Most GP’s won’t know, or refuse to learn about autism and they will see the child for 10 minutes, they can’t diagnose anything, they’ll think a parent is being neurotic and they will send them away.

“Just talking to professionals and hitting brick walls is defeating.”

Ms Bunting said that between the ages of 11 and 16 her son saw various psychologists through the Peel Mental Health Services, but none could diagnose him.

“One of them called him “complex”, she said.

“After everything we’d been through, that just made me laugh.

Ms Bunting said her son became reclusive and stopped going to school as his symptoms worsened, until she contacted Autism Awareness WA last year.

“I called them and said can you give me a list of people I can see because no one is helping to diagnose my son.

“By the age of 16 everyone could see it: other parents, teachers, but not medical practitioners.

“I went to see an autism specialist in Perth who assessed him and he was diagnosed: now he sees a forensic psychiatrist who deals with people that haven’t been diagnosed early on.”

“The psychiatrist flies interstate and when I told him about our story, he said to “make a lot of noise” because if you don’t make noise you won’t get help here.

“He said WA and particularly regional areas like Mandurah were quite ignorant [about autism spectrum disorders], compared to other states.”

Ms Bunting said she is relieved her son has finally been diagnosed after such a long fight.

“I was told he was various things, but it was always the same treatment: I was told and then I was left alone,” she said.

Any parent having difficulties is encouraged to contact the Autism Association’s information line on 1800 636 427 or the Autism Advisory 24 hour hotline on 1300 222 777.