In 1997, Janine Albury-Thomson killed her autistic daughter. Now, as LEE MATTHEWS reports, she tells her story.

Casey Albury had strawberry blonde hair, loved music and would dance in the moonlight.

She cooked messily but imaginatively.

Sometimes she painted, but more often would overlay pink and gold glory with heavy black paint.

She would sometimes eat her pictures, out of sheer frustration because she could not get the effects she wanted.

She could talk, but she couldn't hold a conversation. She talked into her hand, mostly in the third person, but only around familiar people.

Unable to communicate with those around her, she would throw violent temper tantrums, biting, kicking and damaging things.

Casey was the 17-year-old autistic girl from Feilding, killed by her desperate mother, Janine Albury-Thomson, in 1997.

Ms Albury-Thomson felt she had run out of options. Any hope of happiness for Casey seemed impossible, so she did the unthinkable in an attempt to set her daughter free.

Ms Albury-Thomson went to jail, but is now out after serving part of her four-year sentence.

Looking back at the events that led to Casey's death, Ms Albury-Thomson said she felt considerable mental anguish, but no guilt.

"I know I did the very best I could do for Casey. But what a waste.

"Casey and I were just stuck - stuck together and alone. We were already in prison. We were both exhausted, and her behaviour became more and more challenging.

"It just became impossible, beyond any one human to cope with it."

Ms Albury-Thomson said she had needed to serve her prison sentence.

"It's not acceptable to take a life. It's not," she said. "I was brought up to know right from wrong.

"That's been the biggest struggle, to get to grips with what happened.

"So many times that day I asked for help. I begged and pleaded with them. They all said, 'No, there's no funding'.

"I told them I was afraid I was going to end up killing Casey, thinking that I would never do it.

"And my one fear now, four years later, is that some other poor parent's anger and frustration will go down and get lost in the distress and the fog."

Ms Albury-Thomson said Casey had excellent help when she was 3, but it fell apart as she grew up because it did not change and grow as her needs altered.

Every autistic child has different needs.

About 10 per cent have superior intelligence or gifts, but teaching children the social skills to interact normally in society so they can tap into these gifts remains the biggest challenge.

It bothered Ms Albury-Thomson that no one else saw Casey's beauty and talent.

"They only saw her faults. They never saw any of her good points, how beautifully she moved, how she would dance, how much she loved music - Mozart and Vivaldi. She played the piano.

"She mastered one tune she composed. It was haunting and beautiful and it reminded me of Beethoven.

"She was beautiful, and my husband, Bruce, and I were the only people in the world who saw her beauty."

Isolated and friendless, Casey, like many other autistic people, needed masses of practical and expert help to socialise.

"Casey was just so alone. I had to be everything to her."

She cited instances of Casey being mishandled by well-intentioned but inexpert teachers and respite carers.

Their idea was to somehow make her behave normally, as if what she did was the result of being untrained or naughty.

"Then she'd rock, to comfort herself, and they'd tell her that was naughty and to stop it ...

"It was so lonely for Casey. I felt her loneliness."

Autism change 'still too slow'

Despite the piles of reports and recommendations generated by Casey's death and the events that led an exhausted, desperate mother to kill her child, Janine Albury-Thomson says that, four years on, not enough has changed.

Parents of autistic children needed better use of the existing resources and, above all, more understanding from society.

Autistic spectrum disorder covers a family of syndromes where people have trouble communicating, exhibit repetitive, violent or destructive behaviours and dislike change.

In extreme cases, people are locked inside themselves and cannot respond to others.

Mrs Albury-Thomson has written to Prime Minister Helen Clark to try to explain what autistic people and their families need.

Education was still a "nightmare" for children with autism, she said.

Experts persisted in approaching them from the intellectual angle, when what they most needed was round-the-clock help with learning basic social skills.

There was also too much reliance on medication.

Mrs Albury-Thomson said the Government would be shortchanging autistic people until every major city had adequate respite care.


Herald Feature: Health