December 3, 2008 – 6:54PM

 

A South Australian Coroner has called for permanent accommodation to be set up for children with Asperger’s Syndrome, following an inquiry into the death of a teenager two years ago.

Rowan Wheaton, 18, hanged himself from a door knob in a temporary housing facility at Christies Beach, south of Adelaide, where he was placed after his parents had spent years pleading for help, State Coroner Mark Johns said in his findings released on Wednesday.

The inquiry heard Mr Wheaton was four-years-old when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome – a neuro-development disorder that is sometimes considered to be part of what is called the autistic spectrum.

The disorder can cause sufferers to find it difficult to manage social interactions.

Mr Wheaton’s father gave evidence during the inquiry that his son had been a pleasant and agreeable young boy until problems started to develop in his teenage years.

When Mr Wheaton started to become violent, his parents sought help through the public health system, and on presenting at a number of emergency departments with police and ambulance officers, their son was discharged by clinicians who said there was nothing they could do.

In 2005, Mr Wheaton was detained under the Mental Health Act after he stabbed himself in the abdomen with a small knife, Coroner Johns said.

Disability Services later found accommodation for Mr Wheaton at the Beach House, in Christies Beach, with another young Asperger’s sufferer, whom he did not get along with.

In his findings, Coroner Johns said the Beach House model of accommodation “came too late in Mr Wheaton’s life to make a real difference” and that staff were not adequately trained.

He said the decision by one staff member to turn off an alarm on the morning of Mr Wheaton’s death so he would not be disturbed was a strong indicator of cultural deficiency at the Beach House.

Coroner Johns said it was impossible to build up long term experience amongst staff while there was an ad hoc arrangement for accommodation and that there was a need for South Australian Asperger’s sufferers in care to have permanent staff and permanent accommodation.

A copy of the Coroners findings are expected to be sent to the Commonwealth secretary for disabilities, Bill Shorten, for his consideration.

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