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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

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Barrow Asperger's mum hopes other families can be spared her pain

IN an in-depth look at the issues surrounding Autistic Spectrum Disorders, the Evening Mail is today launching a series of articles featuring Furness families. But it took the tragic loss of one young man to bring the subject to the fore. Bereaved mum Amanda Morris of Barrow shared her story with EMMA PRESTON

THE strength Amanda Morris has shown in the wake of her son’s death is admirable, not just because she has been able to find it but also for the reasons why.

The 39-year-old is carrying on not only for the sake of her own family, but in the hope of helping others.

The steadfast determination written across her face is belied only by her eyes, which are filled with the terrible sadness any parent hopes never to experience.

Mrs Morris lost her son, Ashley Jake Keenan, on July 2 this year, when he hanged himself aged 18.

Ashley had Asperger Syndrome, an autistic spectrum disorder which affects the way people communicate, interact and understand the world around them.

With the right support and encouragement, people with Asperger’s can lead full and independent lives – but Mrs Morris said her son, who was not diagnosed until three years before his death, never had that chance.

Having noticed Ashley was a very troublesome child, Mrs Morris first took him to a doctor when he was seven, and was referred to a child psychiatrist.

But, following an assessment, the family did not hear anything.

Mrs Morris, of Keith Street, Barrow, said: “I just thought, ‘They’ve not got back to me, obviously they don’t think anything’s wrong’, but at the back of my mind you know.

“You let it go and you carry on with the struggle, knowing something’s wrong but not knowing what it is.”

That is one of the main messages Mrs Morris wants to share with families as she appeals for action in Ashley’s name.

She said: “If you know something is wrong but you don’t know what it is, keep going, keep pestering.

“If a doctor tells you there’s nothing wrong and you think there is, you go back, you go to another doctor.

“If someone sees you and doesn’t get in touch, you get in touch straight away.”

In the eight years that followed, Mrs Morris faced endless problems with Ashley and repeatedly asked social workers to help. Finally, one did.

Mrs Morris said: “She’d been to see Ashley and she said, ‘There’s a problem there. He does need help’.

“I threw my arms in the air and said ‘Halleluiah’.”

This time, when Ashley went to see a doctor, he was diagnosed almost immediately. But by that time, Mrs Morris said, it was too late.

She feels the struggles her family faced, and the problems Ashley developed, could have been prevented.

She said: “If we’d known, I’d have understood him better, I’d have learned the dos and don’ts, Ashley wouldn’t have got as far out of control as he did. His schools would’ve understood it to work with him better.

“By the time he was diagnosed, he didn’t want to know.

“When at 15 and-a-half I told him, ‘Ashley, you’ve got a mental illness’, he just said, ‘there’s nothing wrong with me’.

“He was the wrong age.”

Mrs Morris said Ashley’s behaviour got worse as he got older because of his lack of understanding of his condition.
She said: “Ashley’s main trouble was his emotions.

“When he was happy, he went into a depression, crying. When he was sad, it came out as anger. He just didn’t understand his feelings.

“When he went to live on his own, he couldn’t cope. He’d got used to me doing things for him – because that was the easiest way to have a quiet life.

“If we had been able to work with him on those kinds of things when he was younger, he could have been different.

“I’m sure there are people out there living with Asperger’s and living well, and I think that’s because they’ve got the early diagnosis and been taught what’s going on.”

Even once Ashley was diagnosed, Mrs Morris said, there was still no relief for her family.

The brave mum is determined to be the person to help make that change.

She hopes Ashley’s story will encourage other families to come forward, raise awareness about ASDs and campaign for better services for their loved ones.

She wants to see diagnosis made simpler and quicker and, she said: “I want to see family support on a daily basis – it’s a massive struggle and families need that.

“There needs to be something to help people release their stresses, somewhere they can go just so they’re not alone.
“There should be people who can take them away for weekends with other autistic children, to teach them to work with others and learn that they’re not on their own.”

Mrs Morris has praised the work of the National Autistic Society’s Barrow branch, run by families living with ASDs to provide help and support.

Mrs Morris plans to hold a fundraiser for the charity, in Ashley’s memory, after Christmas.

She said: “To be honest, I don’t think I have grieved yet – I’m just in focus mode.

“I have to do this for Ashley.”

  • Tomorrow’s Evening Mail will include a feature on issues surrounding the diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
Have your say

My heart breaks for you. To lose your beautiful son so tragically is horrific. I comPletely understand what you and especially Ashley went through. Believe me when I say it is just as bad here in Scotland. I knew my son was different. Special in many ways. But, when I asked a doctor for help because my son stopped going out to play when he was 8 years old the doc referred him to a psychiatrist. He ended up trapped in the horrendous mental health system. Drugged and abused for decades by professionals who labelled him mentally ill. Eventually, after decades of trying to get these people to listen, my son was diagnosed with an ASD in 2009, age 34. We are STILL fighting for appropriate services to try and repair some of the damage but I am losing hope. It's soul destroying after diagnoses ( two seperate diagnoses of ASD) my son is still trapped in the mental health system. It amazes me that he has survived. He is by no means intact but he is still alive even after the years of torture he's been put through. I will keep fighting but I have to say, it's almost destroyed me, watching my bright and amazing boy die an inch at a time over these years. My own anger and heartbreak is killing me too.
I wish this awful situation would be put right, once and for all. I wish psychiatrist would admit mistakes and really do what's right for their patients instead of themselves.

Posted by Margaret Miller on 27 November 2012 at 00:21

Many of us parents who have loved ones on the Autistic spectrum are very grateful to Emma Preston for her sympathetic reporting and all the parents and the young man who spoke out. We need more awareness of the lack of services in Cumbria. Thank goodness for the few decent adult services Safa and the Croftlands trust we have to fall back on that are taking up the challenge of helping people on the spectrum.

Posted by janet bury on 26 November 2012 at 22:35

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