Tears shed at Dawes inquest

By Dawn Cohen

Estranged parents Craig and Daniela Dawes sat in different rows at the coronial inquest into their son's death yesterday, but they sobbed in unison when TV footage of Jason was replayed.

They were watching home videos of happier days, before their autistic son Jason was suffocated by Ms Dawes on August 4, 2003.

The videos were followed by taped interviews with the couple after the 10-year-old's death.

These were interspersed with comment from world autism expert, Anthony Attwood, who appeared at the inquest yesterday.

Dr Attwood told the inquest the Ballina Early Intervention Centre's failure to provide the recommended treatment hindered the severely autistic boy's progress, magnifying family stress.

He said he assessed Jason at two-and-a-half-years of age, and again when he was three-and-a-half.

Dr Attwood, a clinical psychologist, said he was confident Jason would have developed language and independence skills provided he received adequate early intervention.

"If Jason had received early intervention, it would have been a different story," he said.

The inquest heard Jason did receive 20 speech therapy sessions over an 18month period after Bernard O'Neill, former director of the Ballina Early Intervention Centre, referred the boy to speech pathologist Shirley Robertson at the Ballina Community Health Centre.

Craig Dawes' barrister, Ian McKay, said Mr O'Neill was later investi- gated by the centre's management committee for inadequate service provision after complaints from parents.

After Deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanovich rebuked government departments for their absence from the inquest on Monday, representatives from the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care (DADAC), the early intervention centre's funding body, attended yesterday.

Cathy Williamson, acting corporate counsel for the department, requested the case be adjourned to Sydney so employees from the city where Jason spent his last year could provide evidence.

"We will cross that bridge when we come to it," Mr Milovanovich said.

"I instructed Sergeant Norton [assisting counsel] to inform the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, the Department of Education and the Department of Community Services some months ago of the case, but nobody expressed any interest at the time."

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