Former Perth Wildcats coach Scott Morrison has revealed his son Max has been diagnosed with autism since they returned to Canada — and the inability to access help in WA drove his decision to resign.
Morrison cited family reasons when announcing his resignation last month after just one season but has now opened up on the litany of challenges that he and wife Susanne endured in Perth while seeking assistance for their two-year-old.
That included spending $10,000 on a MRI to rule out Max having a brain tumour and paying $700 per week on his development and therapies. The massive expenses were not subsidised given they aren’t Australian citizens.
Their experience highlighted the problems within the WA health system, given families must visit a speech pathologist, paediatrician and psychologist to receive an autism diagnosis.
Waiting lists in WA extend beyond 12 months, but it took only four weeks for Max to be diagnosed with autism in Canada.
Morrison said the diagnosis made him more comfortable with the decision to resign.
“The morning after we did the press conference to say I was going to resign, I was feeling pretty down about it and I got a call from one of the places I had been calling to say they had an opening for Max in mid-July. I took that as a sign we did the right thing,” Morrison told The West Australian’s The Dribble Podcast.
“It gave me a little bit of hope things were going to be a little bit easier and it was going to be better. It was kind of the break we needed.”
The Morrisons hope speaking publicly will shine a light on autism and provide support for other families.
Founder and chairperson of Furthering Autistic Children’s Education and Schooling (FACES) Dr Emily Pearce is desperate for a school to be built for autistic children in WA. FACES is preparing for an Open Day on August 15 and Dr Pearce said the State had reached crisis point.
“It’s the fastest growing disability in the world. The numbers are staggering and increasing at a huge rate. We are definitely in crisis,” she said.
“The whole system is just broken. We don’t have enough allied health professionals who have the skills to be able to diagnose. We need to get these kids services before they get a diagnosis.
“We are desperate to find backers to find a site to be able to start a school for autistic children in Perth.”
Dr Pearce said the financial burden was crippling families, with most therapy sessions costing WA families $200 and some people being forced to sell their homes to help their children.
Receiving a diagnosis means Max’s therapy costs are covered in North America.
Curtin University Researcher and Lecturer Dr Cindy Smith is conducting an autism study and described the system as “arduous.” She said about 6500 children are unable to receive support in WA schools.
“There are children who have been excluded from school for years and their parents have given up and home schooled them because they have no other option,” she said.
“The Department of Education are doing their best. They are trying. But it is a fast moving problem and we don’t have the professionals who understand the problems or what it takes to include children with autism or autistic characteristics within an inclusive setting.”
The Morrisons are now living back on Canada’s Prince Edward Island. Having previously worked as assistant coach at the Boston Celtics, Scott has interviewed for jobs within the NBA and is tipped to soon be based in America.
While Wildcats fans were furious that their team missed the finals for the first time since 1986 under Morrison’s coaching, they had no idea of the pressures he faced.
WA’s closed border left him stranded on the east coast during Max had his brain MRI, and Susanne spent months alone while caring for their two children and chasing autism answers. Scott said the family pressures had been difficult.
“This is kind of the first real stuff I’ve had to deal with in my life,” Morrison said.
“I’ve been pretty blessed that way. The only pressure I’ve ever felt has been on the court and that’s not really pressure when it comes to life.
“They always said the job would be a high pressure one, but the pressure I was facing was more internal. Bringing the family over there, saying it was going to be a good thing for our family and then being separated and then having to deal with stuff that Max went through, I learnt what real pressure was.”
Scott and Susanne expressed gratitude for the help they received from experts in WA and said the extensive information they received helped to expedite Max through the Canadian system.
But Susanne said it was vital for autistic children to receive more support.
“There’s a lot of misinformation. There’s a lot to learn when it comes to neuro-diversity and a lot to unlearn,” Susanne said.
“We need to make this world better for Max and for other kids on the spectrum and other kids with these invisible disabilities.
“There’s going to be challenges in front of them every single day and they’re going to be challenges a lot of people aren’t going to understand and they’re not going to be able to see. We just want to make this world inclusive so they can do all the things.
“I don’t want the house and Max’s room to be his safe place.”