McMurr & Sheill 2014 FamCA 327

A father applied for a child aged 8 years to participate in a special education placement but the mother failed to file a response despite the Court’s directions to do so.  Evidence was presented that the child had attended a number of professionals regarding his developmental needs.

The child had been admitted to hospital for a bronchial infection and was referred a developmental psychologist due to suspected developmental delay, and was then referred on to a paediatrician who noted decreased language skills and use of a large amount of unintelligible jargon.  The child was identified as a special needs child.  The mother was disinclined to accept the opinions of the professionals and asserted that the child did not meet the criteria of belonging to the broad spectrum of autistic disorders but instead considered there were a number of behavioural concerns, including mild developmental delay at a global level, immature speech and social/emotional development and that the child had a tendency towards oppositional and defiant behaviour.  While both parents accepted a need for speech therapy, each parent unfortunately arranged a different speech therapist for the child (communication poor).

Different professional assessments of the child continued to be received including autism spectrum and anger, leading to different plans for management.  As the mother did not support an Individual Education Plan IEP plan prepared by the child’s school, the school ceased the child’s enrolment as the school was unable to meet the child’s educational needs unless an IEP was supported by both of his parents.  The child was enrolled in another school but was soon suspended due to aggressive incidents that could not be managed without the resources needed to assist a special needs child to integrate into a mainstream school.

A single expert was appointed to assess the child and parental atittudes.  The expert was surprised by the level of the mother’s apparent denial of the concern reported by a range of health and educational professionals.  The expert referred to parental intransigence about an agreed diagnosis. The expert recommended a meeting of relevant professionals to plan interventions with a minimum composition of a paediatrician, a speech pathologist, a psychologist and relevant members of the education system.

The judge found that the mother had a fixation against the child being labelled in a manner which might have some negative connotations for him, together with a strong belief that over-diagnoses of autism can occur (personality rigid).  The judge criticised the mother’s attitude to her responsibilities of parenthood when she absented herself from an important hearing when matters required urgent attention.

The father was granted delegated authority to enrol the child in an autism intervention program.