Dr James Morton – my hero

I don’t have many heroes or heroines. People are just people and everyone is flawed – why elevate someone to that level?  But I do make an exception for some rare types who just blow me away with their ability to achieve great things in the face of incredible barriers. Dr James Morton is that type of person.

One individual, Dr James Morton, has done more for young children with autism in Queensland, Australia than entire Government Departments have ever done.

When my son Michael was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, there were practically no early intervention services in a social setting for young children with autism throughout Queensland.

If you lived in Brisbane (the capital city of the Queensland and located in the Southeast corner of this large State) you might have been able to access some services but these were scarce, did not have enough hours and had long waiting lists.

If you were well off financially and had a lot of nous than you could set up your own in-house program (without a social component). If you lived in regional and rural Queensland – tough luck!

Early intensive intervention (20 to 40 hours a week for 2 years) based on best practice guidelines, is the number one research-based strategy to improve the future for young children with autism.

The age between two and five years is a critical window of opportunity for children with autism and profound changes can be made if an intensive early intervention program is undertaken.

James Morton established the AEIOU (autism early intervention outcomes unit) fortuitously for us, shortly after Michael’s diagnosis and my son was one of the first groups of children to access the program. And what a program it was!  Michael had access to one-on-one intervention from a great team including speech pathologists, occupational therapist, and early childhood teachers and aides. There was also a wonderful sensory room and a well equipped outside playground.

Michael improved dramatically while attending the AEIOU, learning to socialise, communicate, and developing the myriad of other skills needed to enter the formal school system. He gained confidence and was able to be mainstreamed at school. He continues to improve every year and doesn’t stand out a great deal from the other kids. He is sociable, humorous, kind hearted, speaks well and does above-average in his school work. He is very interested in rubbish collection!

Dr James Morton, a respected child cancer specialist, used $650,000 of his own money to set up the AEIOU. He did this because he and his wife Louise also had a child with autism and found it almost impossible to access intensive, early intervention in a social setting.

That was in 2004.

Today in 2010 James Morton has established 6 centres, including centres in Toowoomba and Townsville and a rural program (piloted in Emerald).

This is why James Morton was State Finalist in the Qld Australian of the Year 2010.

This is why he was this years Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of The Year.  Here is a quote from their website:

‘Determined to make AEIOU available to all autistic children, including those from low income families, James developed the 10-40-600 fundraising strategy. Currently, there is a $10,000 funding gap for the $40,000 it takes to place a child at an AEIOU centre for 12 months. James sought individual and corporate donations to close the gap. He argued that, by assisting these children to communicate, engage with others and become integrated into their community, the contribution provides an average lifetime cost saving of $600,000 per year for each year the child participates in an AEIOU program. Convinced by his argument, 40 sponsors signed in the first year.

James’ funding strategy has enabled rapid expansion, with AEIOU opening six regional centres across Queensland in the past five years, including a rural program. By 2012, the program will be providing full-time specialist care to 50% of children with autism in Queensland.

In the next five years, James plans to support children with autism from diagnosis through childcare, school and ultimately into the work force and to replicate his model in NSW.’

That is why he is my hero.

Thanks James for all your wonderful work and advocacy for children without a voice.