Savant

Broadcast:

Story Details

Twenty six-year-old Patrick Farley is a shadow of his former self.

Patrick, who is autistic, now lives at the State Government facility Strathmont, in a room that can be best described as spartan, and away from his greatest love.

This is a very different Patrick 16 years ago, being tutored by music teacher Lyndal Erikson. Back then, he showed the qualities of a musical savant.

Lyndal Erikson is an expert at tutoring children who have the brain development disorder Autism. Some show glimpses of genius.

Her success with another little boy with autism, Trevor Tao, was nothing short of miraculous.

Trevor blossomed into a chess champion, pianist and composer, and as an adult went on to study mathematical science at university.

Patrick's life took a different path. His family were battlers. From a shining light, to just a flicker and a life inside Adelaide's Strathmont Centre at Oakden that offers him very little stimulation and none of that inspiring music he had in his young life.

Hi mother Barbara told us: "I remember the Dean of Adelaide University on one occasion saying Patrick could do things that the other musical students couldn't do. He's not the same person I would have seen some five years ago where he was quite stimulated by his music, and activities, where he would be quite happy interacting with you."

Nowadays you can't get a word out of Patrick, and Barbara wishes she could.

"I really would love to ask him and him to speak to me and tell me what he thinks of Strathmont, inside there without the music and the life that he has to have there," she says.

When Patrick is encouraged to play music, he jumps at the chance.

But music has temporarily taken a back seat to Barbara's main concern, Patrick's day to day care in Strathmont.

"[He had] a severe bite mark and when you see the pictures of the bite, you'll see the indentation of the teeth."

But that pales alongside a shocking incident that happened at Strathmont in November last year, when a sedated and unsupervised Patrick fell asleep in the sun.

"They left him out in the courtyard of the villa and he got sunburnt. It had blistered and the blisters had burst, and there were just open wounds there," says Barbara.

Staff at Strathmont informed Patrick's Mum about the incident two days later.

"Normally you would cover up a burn and not put water on it, but Patrick was showered every day," claims Barbara.

Patrick's medical review, only three months earlier, reminded staff he has pale celtic skin and needs sunscreen. This advice was ignored´┐Żwith painful consequences.

"I was told: 'Oh, well it can't be hurting him too much, 'cause he's smiling'. Now this just shows the lack of knowledge of the staff at Strathmont. People with autism will smile when they shouldn't, they cry when they shouldn't," says Barbara.

Barbara, a former psychiatric nurse herself, claims senior staff at Strathmont agreed to an in-house investigation into the incident. Five months later, she is still waiting for the results of that investigation. However, Disability SA told us that the long term plan is to close Strathmont, with Patrick moving into community housing in about twelve months.

Verity Bottroff from the Department of Disability Studies at Flinders University, an expert in autism, says without proper stimulation and expert care people like Patrick become miserable.

"There's still a lot of areas where they can't get the numbers of people they need and unfortunately they are taking people who don't have any training," says Verity.

Verity believes that patients like Patrick "would become very withdrawn, depression, all the mental health issues that could develop of someone having no interaction with others. I think we certainly need to value them as citizens that should be able to contribute as much as you and I do to our community."

Barbara believes that the blame lies fairly and squarely on the Government's door.

"It has been put forward to me: 'oh, he doesn't understand'. Well, if we take that to its logical conclusion, we shouldn't vote the politicians in either, 'cause they certainly don't understand."

Share