Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How Could They Do It?

The recent reports of autistic people being murdered (or attempted) at the hands of their parents, has left the autism community reeling. I’ve read opinions all over the place, from those who can sympathize with their actions to those who very simply, cannot. These opinions have been broadcasted from every perspective; nearly.

Here is where I may have a unique point of view. I am one of those people, who had to face the reality that I was not fit to care for my children, one of them being autistic. I had to decide what to do in that critical moment of realization. I faced a moment of truth, much as these parents did.

I am an addict in recovery and my husband is an alcoholic in recovery. Our family had many struggles; and we were definitely ill equipped, to say the least, to care for a significantly disabled child. Neither of us had dealt with the initial grief that all parents have when their child is diagnosed with a significant disability. He drank while I took pills to try to numb our broken hearts.

One fateful day, it all came to a head. I was in massive drug withdrawal, and I knew that in a matter of minutes or hours, I would start having uncontrolled seizures, that could result in death. My heart was pounding out of my chest, my body shaking uncontrollably and my mind was frantically racing.

I knew I had failed my children. Every day I was just trying to survive. Luxuries like therapy for my autistic son were not an option. I was short tempered and scatter brained at best; neglectful and self-absorbed at my worst. They deserved so much better. 

The next choice I made, took more courage than any other single decision I have made in my entire life. I picked up the phone and called Child Protective Services and told them I was not a fit parent and that they needed to pick my children up. Things moved swiftly after that. My children were swept up and put in the care of my sister (thank God). 

My husband and I were given a long list of things we needed to do, if we ever wanted our children back. Day by day, month by month, then year by year, we chipped away at that list. The list consisted of things like rehabilitation, AA meetings, supervised visits and extensive drug and alcohol testing. These were things that we needed to do, and in the end, saved our lives. 

There were several times, that we thought we may lose our children to the system. Every report CPS submits, also evaluates how ‘adoptable’ your children are, in case we did not meet the requirements.  We went through the grieving process over this possibility. I knew what it was like to physically ache to hold my babies and be faced with the chance that I may not get them back. I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on my worst enemy.

While my decision was painful, I did not see another one. I am a mother; it is in my DNA to put my children before myself. For those parents, that tried to, or successfully did, take their autistic child’s life, there was obviously something that loomed larger than this. Something that over-rode all of their parental instincts. 

I’m certain that life with their significantly disabled child was incredibly challenging. I know first hand. I’m certain also that these people were ill equipped to meet those challenges. I understand that also. But, is it a decision I can empathize with? No, never. I have been at the edge of the breaking point, staring down my very limited choices, and that was never even considered as one of them. For those people, there was clearly something much larger, much more ominous.  Something fundamentally very broken, that had no connection to their child’s disability. 

Unquestionably, there are not enough resources out there to support the autism boom. But to place the blame of these events on a lack of support system or services, is misguided.  And, most misguided of all, is for the blame to be placed on the disability itself.  The talk of these ‘poor’ people dealing with this ‘terrible’ disability is unfortunate and does no service to the autism community. When somebody walks into a convenience store and shoots the clerk, we don’t ask what was going on in the murderer’s life to make them pull the trigger. 

The stressors caused by living with autism, clearly just pushed these individuals over an edge that they were already standing on. Instead of looking for the cause in their children, let’s look for the cause in the individuals themselves. We need to stop rationalizing such a brutal crime, and see it for what it is. Murder.

That does not mean that these parents didn't suffer horribly. Obviously they did. It is clear that there was some kind of mental disorder that drove these people to such a terrible state of despair. Let's search for, recognize and treat what is broken. 

One in three disabled children are victims of some type of maltreatment (i.e., either neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse) whereas one in 10 nondisabled children experience abuse. These children are the victims, not their parents. There were probably red flags in these cases, but they were most likely overlooked because the parents were under such significant stress. Let's not turn our head when we see potential abuse, just because the parents are dealing with a disability. We need to look out for the most vulnerable of our citizens. As parents, as part of the autism community and mostly, as human beings - we owe them that.


  1. Well said...Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal perspective..

    1. Thank you so much Kathleen. My son is the light of my life, and it just breaks my heart knowing there are parents out there abusing and even killing these children. On a separate note, I really enjoy your blog's lack of censorship and dedication to the truth. It is refreshing!

  2. Firstly, there isn't a boom in autism cases, diagnosis is increasing, actual numbers of autistic people are not. A lot of people being diagnosed are adults being diagnosed very very late.

    Secondly, no, please do not feed the idea that murderer = mentally ill person. The mentally ill (Mental illness is something autistics are more likely to suffer from as well) are more likely to the victims of violence, not the perpetrators. In fact the risk factor for violent behaviour is substance abuse, not mental illness, with more than half of some violent crimes involving an intoxicated perpetrator.

    1. I beg to differ on the point of why the numbers are increasing. All of the research I have read reflects an increase in diagnosis as well as an increase in numbers.

      Also, let me be clear that when I referenced mental illness, that also encompassed substance abuse, which has been proven to be a disease of the mind. Of course, a mentally ill person does not equate to a murderer. My point was that in the cases I was referring to, the cause for them was not solely the stress of their child disability and that we should not empathize with this action. There were clearly other factors (I could only surmise mental illness/substance abuse, it could be other factors as well) involved and the stress of the disability pushed them over an edge they were already headed towards.

      I stand by my point that, as a community, our priority should be protecting the most vulnerable of us. We should not empathizing with these actions and placing the blame on the disability. That does the autism community as a whole, a great disservice.

      I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment though. Other perspectives are always welcome here!

    2. Addiction can have a mental element but most intoxicated violent people are not considered addicted. Did you consider entitlement? It's not unusual for these murders to be done for sympathy/attention once the high of getting it for having a disabled kid wears off. I'm sure if my mother had felt that killing me would have brought her more attention than bragging about my accomplishments did, I wouldn't be here now.

    3. I was kind of lumping it all together. You are correct, there are people who levy their children for attention (I'm sorry about your mom, that sounds terrible).

      Whatever awful thing would inspire an action like that, the focus should be on the children. They are the actual victims. Showing empathy for those actions because these people were 'burdened' with this disability, does not do anything positive. It encourages more of the same by justifying it.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments Dawn.

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