Eradicate Ableism: Our Lives Depend on It

Content warning: detailed discussion of filicide; discussion of Applied Behavior Analysis.
“If the parent is so antagonistic toward their child that they’re contemplating violence, then something needs to change and it’s not the child — it’s the parent.” Samantha Crane, Director of Public Policy, Autistic Self-Advocacy Network

On this blog, we talk a lot about “benevolent” ableism-people being overly helpful or patronizing toward disabled people. But there’s a much darker side to ableism, too. Like other minority groups, disabled people are disproportionately targets of violence and abuse. You may not hear it in the news, but there were 128 disability hate crimes in the U.S. in 2017
But unlike other minority groups, disabled people are targets of one of the most shocking forms of violence: attempted or actual murder by their family members.

The Ruderman Family Foundation reviewed media coverage between 2011 and 2015 and found reports of 219 disabled people in the United States and Canada who were killed by their primary caregivers-mainly children killed by parents, or elderly people killed by spouses. That number, likely an under-report, represents almost one murder per week
It’s a trend that can’t be explained as a few extraordinary cases.

What could possibly drive a parent to harm their own child?

I’m going to present a case study, of an attempted murder that occurred in 2013. And we can examine what happened, and what might have prevented it.

Kelli Stapleton lived in rural Michigan with her husband and three children. Her middle child, Issy, is autistic. According to Kelli, Issy had been aggressive since she was two years old, mainly toward her mother but also at school. When Issy was 13 years old, her mother enrolled her in a private behavioral treatment center for 7 months, and with a strict regimen of positive reinforcement for “good” behavior, the aggression decreased. But, when Issy came home, she started hitting Kelli again. And, Kelli learned that the local public school was unwilling to implement Issy’s strict behavior plan.

Kelli broke down, and devised a plan of escape for herself and her daughter. On the Tuesday morning after Labor Day 2013, she packed up an old van with pillows, blankets, two hibachi grills, and fixings for s’mores. She drove Issy into the woods where they shared s’mores. She gave Issy a double dose of her antipsychotic medication and brought the still-lit grills into the van, and shut the doors. As they slept, the van filled with smoke and carbon monoxide. By the time they were rescued that evening, Issy had developed a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma for four days. Kelli was charged with attempted murder. Ultimately, she pleaded guilty to first-degree child abuse and was sentenced to 10-22 years in prison.

I’m not even going to get into the horrifying amount of support that Kelli got on social media, with posts arguing that this was her only option. Nor will I talk about the disturbing trend of journalists centering disability filicide stories on the killer’s “burden” rather than on the victim. Or the fact that, unlike Kelli, many people who kill their disabled family members get off with much lighter sentences than those who kill their nondisabled family members.

No, I’m a social psychologist interested in predicting and controlling human behavior. So I don’t want to talk about the after, I want to talk about the before. I delved into Kelli’s blog and media appearances to find out what kinds of thoughts, emotions, and behavior precede such a tragedy.

And, the clues were strikingly obvious.

Kelli started a blog exactly one year before her crime, called “the Status Woe.” The blog started innocently enough, with some self-deprecating humor (not involving her daughter) about a bout of diarrhea on a camping trip. But then, the blog quickly turned to the evils of autism. As I read, it became clear that Kelli was all out of love or compassion for her daughter. She had been on a lifelong journey of trying to cure her daughter’s autism, starting with a rigid home program of applied behavior analysis (ABA) during Issy’s toddler years. She’d tried all kinds of diets and supplements, and behavior plans, to no avail.

In one blog post, titled “Autism’s Hard to Love Club,” Kelli wrote that “I have a daughter firmly planted in autism’s Hard to Love club” and then she preceded to describe issy’s overweight and poor personal hygiene to total strangers. In another post, deceptively titled “Inclusion: Doing It Right,” Kelli wrote about how she would draft the “mothers of the class”-peers and older children with helping dispositions- at Issy’s school to be her “helpers” and assigned “friends” in elementary school, and how all the kids wanted to be Issy’s “friend” so they would gain status and approval from adults. (Disability Wisdom readers know that’s not real inclusion!) Embedded in this post about fake inclusion is the comment that when new kids meet Issy, they discover that “Clearly she isn’t “normal.” Kelli also posted videos of Issy’s aggressions on her public blog, and the videos were edited such that the cause of the aggressions was never clear. She blamed Issy’s aggressions on “autism, hormones, and whoknowswhatelse.”

Kelli also gave a radio interview around the same time as she wrote her blog. On the interview, Kelli admitted that her ABA treatment may have contributed to Issy’s aggressions, saying, “I’ve been in her face since before she was two years old” reinforcing Issy’s every act as she tried to shape non-autistic behavior. On the air, Kelli didn’t sound like a murderer. But, her entire focus was on treating Issy. when the psychiatrist on the show asked Kelli if she had gotten counseling for herself or the rest of the family who was impacted by Issy’s aggressions, Kelli kept saying she just needed to focus on Issy and getting Issy’s behaviors under control before taking therapy herself. The psychiatrist warned that aggression was a family issue, that the entire family was involved and that “eventually, someone is going to get hurt.”

I cannot pretend to imagine how hard it must be to live with a family member who is aggressive on a regular basis. Undoubtedly, stress and burnout contributed to Kelli’s tragic choice. But, aggression is not an inevitable consequence of autism. Antisocial behavior never occurs in a vacuum. It not only impacts the entire family, but it is caused and reinforced by interplay between one’s internal neurology and the external environment. And perhaps one of the least-appreciated factors contributing to a disabled person’s alleged behavioral difficulties is ableism in the family unit.

I wonder what it would have been like for me, if my parents had kept me on such a tight ABA leash, getting in my face and correcting my every action since before I was two years old. If I knew that my parents not-so-secretly wished I wasn’t born the way I was and did everything they could to try to change me. If my parents filmed me in my most vulnerable moments and put those videos out along with weight-shaming comments on the Internet. If I had sensory needs my parents and teachers ignored. If I had no outlet for expressing my turbulent emotions during puberty, and if my attempts at communication were dismissed.

That’s right: I’d probably start hitting, too. And I’d probably keep aggressing if I learned that aggression was the only way for me to control my own life.

Issy Stapleton nearly died because of her mother’s ableism, plain and simple. In an interview with New York Magazine after her sentencing, Kelli recounted the day of the crime, saying of her fantasies of the afterlife on that day, “We will be done with autism completely … “For the first time
in my life I am going to be able to have a real conversation with her,
and see her. Get to know her, without the perseverations and the
aggression. In her real voice, not this robot voice.”

Kelli could not bring herself to accept the child she had. She tried in vain to change Issy, and Issy responded with aggression. The violence escalated until Kelli came to the conclusion that a murder-suicide was the only way for her to get the child she really wanted.

Preventing disability filicides goes far beyond just giving parents more respite services or better insurance coverage for therapies. (Indeed, Kelli was on her state’s waiver, where she had nnearly 24-hour help with Issy at home. Other parents with less support don’t hurt their children). Prevention needs to start much earlier. Anyone who plans to become a parent must get good, balanced information about disabilities and come to understand the normality of disability. Because, the statistics show that one in every 88 parents will bear an autistic child. Up to one in five parents will bear a child who, at some point in life, becomes disabled. Disability must be presented in our schools, our workplaces, our neighborhoods as a natural part of the human condition. People planning to become parents must have opportunities to examine their biases about disabilities and eventually come to accept the possibility of having children whose abilities might differ from their own.

From a policy perspective, this might mean having disability studies as a mandatory course in high schools. It might mean that whenever a child is diagnosed with any disability (whether in utero, at birth or later in childhood), the family is automatically connected with at least one self-advocate bearing the same disability. And, it means that when a child or teen presents with behavioral difficulties, assessment and treatment must focus on the entire family unit, not just the one family member manifesting symptoms.

We need to work together to eradicate ableism. It is literally a matter of life and death.
For Further Reading:
Kelli Stapleton Can’t Forgive Herself. Can You?
Untwisting Perceptions: Autism, Parenting, and Victimhood
The Cost of Noncompliance is Unreasonable
Kelli Stapleton. Still Relevant.

35 thoughts on “Eradicate Ableism: Our Lives Depend on It

  1. You sound like a very well-educated arm-chair quarterback. I do not condone Ms. Stapleton’s decision. I do, however, understand her state of mind and where she is coming from. Ableism, a new word for me that makes me shake my head in disgust, is not the case here. You are mistaken. You are assuming it’s one thing, and then broadcasting to the world like it’s the gospel. I am sure that there are other situations where this may be true. Maybe you should focus your time and attention on those cases where this “Ableism” has been clearly established. Better yet, use your skills to help educate and encourage families of people with disabilities in their struggles and daily challenges. Sympathize, and then point out the positive things that can occur. Use your connections to help them acquire the help and services they need. Don’t tell them why they’re wrong for this “Ableism”. Tell them what’s good and right about what they’re currently doing. You know, positive reinforcement. Teach them new skills or how to make what they’re doing more effective for themselves and their loved ones.
    I have no doubt we are both very compassionate people who care about the human condition and the rights of others. I have a lot of opinions of my own on subjects where I have more emotion than experience. Where I’m “well-intended, but ill-informed”. This is not one of them.

    1. Vicki Gill, Thank you for reading. I am not sure how you found my blog or what your connection is to the autism community. If you look around at some of my other posts, I do write a lot of things intended to educate folks about disabilities and to point out things people have done well for us. However, I can’t just write about the positives. The fact is that disabled people have faced discrimination for thousands of years, up to and including filicide. Not mentioning these acts of cruelty would be not sharing our full story. It would not be doing enough to prevent such heinous acts from happening again. In this particular case, a parent tried to kill her child because she fantasized about having a different child. She clearly said she couldn’t wait to be in heaven with a different child, a non-autistic child, one without a “robot voice.” That is ableism, pure and simple. Dozens of autistic adults have spoken and written about the impact of being rejected by parents who wanted to change them into different people. I call it ableism because autistic people call it ableism, and they are the real experts on their own experience. Having said that, it sounds like you have some connection to the autism community or the parent community. I would welcome your ideas on how to intervene earlier so that more disabled children and youth can be protected from caregiver abuse.

      1. “ In this particular case, a parent tried to kill her child because she fantasized about having a different child.” I disagree with your opinion here. Wanting to help your child and wishing things could be different for them/yourself/family, does not equate “ableism”, as you call it. The stress of living with and raising an autistic child is beyond the comprehension of anyone who has not done it. Period. With all the so-called “help” available as spoken of on tv and other places, it’s not always available or accessible to everyone that needs it. I do not agree with filicide or abuse in any form, but as the parent of a child with autism, I can understand how a mother could reach that point. Well meaning and “highly educated” people often have many suggestions for parents of children with autism, but most of their suggestions have already been/are being implemented and have either worked randomly or failed completely. There is no one solution for all.
        The main thing mothers of children with autism need is someone to give them respite, to come and stay with with child while they leave the home for a break, or take a nap, or something of that nature,
        to help them recoup a little peace from the constant onslaught of dealing with one crisis after another – from feeling guilty for not being able to help their child get better – from the harsh judgments of people who think they know better how to handle it. Living in a state of hyper-vigilance, as parents with autistic children do, takes a toll on the body and the mind. Over years of time it can have the same effect as being mentally tortured. Toddlers grow out of having tantrums. They learn not to cross the street without looking. They stop wetting the bed. They grow up and become independent and leave home. This isn’t always the case with autistic children. Although there are many joys, there are many heartaches. I can understand how a mother can get to a place of desperation when she can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. What Kelli Stapleton did isn’t right, should never be justified, and thankfully, isn’t common, but it is a sad truth that can perhaps only be understood by another parent who has been there.

        1. I’m the mother of an autistic child. I don’t know if that makes me any sort of an expert, but here goes.

          Ableism is not a made up word that goes in scare quotes. What Kelli Stapleton did was absolutely a result of ableism. Here’s the thing. She wasn’t calling out for more help, or for some respite, or anything like that. She said, point blank, she wanted a different child. She wanted a different child SO much that she tried to kill her child.

          And ableism in our society enabled that. There were people in her life who could have helped. There were people who listened to her radio show, who read her blog. There was a therapist on the show at one point. People heard her. And it was all excused away because, apparently, parents of autistic kids should have this antagonistic attitude toward them. THAT’s ableism.

          My autistic child frustrates me sometimes. And they make me laugh. And cry. And love. But I have never felt antagonistic or hateful towards them. My feelings towards my autistic child are much the same as my feelings towards my neurotypical children. And if my relationship was anything like what hers was with any of my kids, I hope someone in my life would DO something and protect my child!

          Don’t handwave this away because autistic children can be hard. Parenting is hard. All children deserve parents who won’t kill them when they aren’t perfect. This shouldn’t need to be said.

          1. I agree, I am currently raising my two grandchildren, 1 whom is autistic and 1 whom is not. Yes they both equally get on my last nerve but never the less I love them , I may have to take more time with one on some things but so what ,. The way I look at it , God made him extra special so I take extra special time in teaching him…

        2. Kelli didn’t want to help the child she had; she wanted to change that child she had into the child she wanted. By any means necessary. Including murder. When you don’t accept your disabled child because of her disability, that is the very definition of ableism.

      2. This is the first time I’ve heard about this case… I’m a Mum with BPD, MDD, PTSD and physical health problems and my 16yr son is Autistic… Yes it can be hard work, exhausting, frustrating etc.. It can be so damn hard when I’m fighting my own illnesses/demons too but never has it ever entered my head to do any harm to my child.. He is a gift from God as is my daughter (who is not on the Spectrum).. Being a parent is not meant to be a walk in the park, its damn hard at times no matter if a child is disabled or not… I basically got told my son was Autistic and had to just get on with it eg.. Researched ASD myself, raised my son myself.. This woman had a support network not many people do.. Even in my darkest days, and with Borderline Personality Disorder, I have a battle going on with myself every single day, I would never hurt my children.. There is no excuse to abuse, attempt kill etc anyone.. I will never understand anyone who would say they get how a Mum gets to the point where the want to kill their child… If that Mum wants to take their own life, that’s one thing but how dare they think they have the right to take their own flesh and blood with them & because she couldn’t cope with a child on the Spectrum… I adore my kids and wouldn’t charge them for the world.. My son grounds me, he is the reason I’m still alive.. When my mental health problems get very dark I just have to look at my Son and he is worth living for.. I understand him better than anyone, I’m the person he trusts completely, I’m his biggest supporter, I’m his biggest fan and I need to stay alive for him.. I will always fight his corner, protect him etc and I will never let anyone hurt him (God help anyone who tries)….. He is my hero, he has his daily battles…. You protect your kids not try to end their life… What that Mum did to her daughter us sickening and there is no excuse for what she has done….

      3. First off let me say I do not condone what Kelli did, Murder is wrong no matter what. But this blog has a few facts Wrong and the full story isnt told here. Issy did not go to a special school for 7 months and magically had No fits of violent rage. Fact is she had aggressive, violent outburst often for the 7 months she was there. Issy really hurt some of the staff at the school and there is picture of the injuries Issy did to the staff. Issy was also made to leave the school because the insurance would no longer pay. And the family countnt afford the school on their own. The school was suppose to reintroduce Issy into the home slowly which did Not happen. Issy was just made to leave asap because there was no money or insurance to cover her stay. Issy is a very violent child and not only did she beat her mother multiply times a “day” she put Kelli in the hospital a several times with severe head trama. Issys father came home to find issy had beat her mother unconscious and was still standing over her mother continuing to beating on her even after she was unresponsive and unconscious. Kelli told multiply people she feared Issy is going to kill her. Issy also took her violent rages out on her little sister often. Kelli was worried that Issy would hurt or even kill the youngest daughter. Friends and family of Kelli said Kelli tried to get help for Issy over and over again but was told No we cant help or its to much money insurance want cover Etc… help wasnt so ready and available. Issy was also kicked out of another program because she was to violent. and was turned down by others because of Issy violent Behavior. So between financial difficulties and Issy violent outbursts no one would take Issy in and help. Every state is different in healthcare thats available to people. Maybe one state is better then others about providing help for severely autistic childern. I think people and this blog writer should start looking into Kelli’s story there is so much more then you know. And this article only told a very small percentage of the story and a lot of info just wasnt true. This blogger may have gotten bad information about the Kelli and Issy story. There is many picture and video thats not edited that shows a part of what was going on with Kelli, Issy and their family. Like I said I dont condone murder of anyone but I dont believe Kelli did this in Hate. Kelli also was not trying to get away with what she did. In fact she didnt even try to get a lessor sentence she asked the judge to give her at least 15 years. Even though her attorneys believed they could have worked a deal or put in for a temporary insanity plea. That wouldve got her out on probation but Kelli refused to do that…
        I think this is a travesty for Issy, Kelli and the whole family. Please people check out Kelli and Issy’s story for yourself this blog doesnt give you a true and accurate account. I dont support what Kelli did but I think if people checked all the videos interviews and articles you may ubderstand what was going on in Kelli’s mind at the time and I dont feel it was hate. Issy was/is a very violent child that is the size of a full grown adult she is much bigger then her mother shes not a little girl. Kelli was very misguided and made a very bad decision.

        1. Kat , I’m just learning about this story via an old Dr.Phil 2 part documentary. I don’t believe She meant to harm Izzy in a hateful way either. I feel her (izzy’s mom) heart for her child was broken and she wanted the hurt, the pain the confusion to stop.
          Pray for them all.

  2. No murder can ever be excused or justified in any way. Period. Portraying a disabled person’s murderer as the victim when the disabled person is LITERALLY DEAD is revolting beyond belief. If a woman had tried to murder her nondisabled thirteen-year-old child, she would be roundly condemned by everyone, but since the child had a disability, suddenly it’s all, “Poor Kelly. You were so put upon and stressed out.” Yes, parents of disabled children should be able to access services and support, but society must protect disabled lives with the same vigor they protect nondisabled ones. Every time I see an “I murdered my disabled relative and I’m the victim” narrative, I want to puke. It’s one of the few things that gets me truly enraged.

    1. From photos I’ve seen the daughter not only outweighs the Mother but could be taller depending on whether Mom has heels. Did you watch the Dr Phil show which exhaustively reviewed aspects to include a 20 hr interview with a practicing professional who at the outset diagnosed PTSD in the Mom? Do your homework.
      And the daughter is not dead. After a 4 day coma she awoke with a moderately changed behavior. But no info on whether the younger daughter/sister was still living in the home, whom the daughter Issy was also beating.

  3. I’m struggling to wrap my head around these responses: so, somebody tries to kill another human being, and we’re … what? thinking up ways to feel bad for the attacker and ignoring the victim? It’s premeditated attempted murder, whether she was stressed, angry, afraid, freaked out, overwhelmed, suffering everything you want to list. This is not the case of a victim attacking an abuser: it’s a more powerful person killing a weaker person … can I just go live on a planet where we can all agree that this is a wrong thing to do? I got buckets of compassion for people working hard to raise kids, and this mother can seek her own solace and forgiveness as she is able, but let’s … talk about the almost dead 13-year-old child. And let that child’s welfare be our focus. And, as the blog clearly states, let’s work like hell to find ways of supporting parents while we protect our children.

    1. Well said, Sherri. I don’t understand how people can feel more sympathy for an abuser or murderer than they have for the abused or murdered. Societal dehumanization of disabled folks is, I’m sure, a factor in people relating more to the parents. This makes me so angry and sad.

  4. Autistic mom of an autistic kid, and autistic teacher of autistic students here.

    Any person who kills (or attempts to kill) their autistic child is ableist murderous scum.

    Anyone who sympathizes with these people needs to realize that this sympathy is rooted in ableism.

    Kelli had support and assistance in caring for Issy. She had enough means to send her to private school and have lots of therapies.

    She also had a lot of hate in her heart, as shown by her quotes above.

    This was 100% a hate crime.

  5. All: I write my blog in order to promote full acceptance of disabled people. I wrote this post in order to make readers aware of filicide and to prevent it from happening to other disabled people. Please, if you find yourself empathizing with someone who tried to kill their child, even a little bit, please get help. If you are currently caring for a disabled person (of any age) and you start to feel like you understand how it feels to want to kill your child, please get help. Below is a list of mental health hotlines and resources to consult. Kelli was so set on “treating” her daughter, she refused to get help for herself, even when it was suggested to her. Please don’t make the mistake Kelli made.

  6. I think this is a really well written piece that highlights how our society’s views on disability and especially autism enable abuse.

    Of course not every family abuses their disabled children, but the social narrative of disabled folks being a burden and autistic folks being difficult/violent helps to obscure and excuse abuse.

    We also need to look at the ‘interventions’ we provide for autistic people and ask who they are really for? Is it to help the autistic person feel safe in a neurotypical world? Or is it to help neurotypical people by making the autistic person seem, well, less autistic?

  7. As a mother, I’m trying to wrap my head around this. A mom gets burned out, stressed out, wants a different kid than she has because of Reason X or Y–here it’s serious disability–so murder is uncomfortable but kind of maybe understandably okay? Run that by me again just so I’m real clear …

    First of all, murder is wrong. Period. End of story. That fact is one of the pillars upon which civilization is based.

    Second, filicide is wrong. When parents conceive and birth children, they take on incredible responsibilities, ready or not. The issue wasn’t what Kelli Stapleton wanted anymore. What mattered was Issy. If Kelli Stapleton truly couldn’t deal with her daughter as she was, not as some fantasy child who didn’t exist, she should have taken steps to place Issy outside her home or even make her a ward of the state. That would have been an act of sanity. But putting a couple of lit grills in a van and settling Issy down for an eternal nap was premeditated murder motivated by disability, pure and simple. Whether Kelli Stapleton was sad, tired, frustrated, burdened, isolated, or anything else, the bottom line is, she tried to murder her child.

    The broader context of this tragedy is that disabled people in our society are apparently still not viewed as complete human beings, entitled to the full protection of the law and the total value and concern given to other people. If the disabled were regarded as fully human, nobody–not one person anywhere–would make excuses for what Kelli Stapleton did to her daughter. No one would lose sight of the fact that Issy, the thirteen-year-old autistic girl, was the victim in this crime, and her mother was the perpetrator. The caution here is that dehumanization is a slippery slope. When we start the process with disabled people, where do we stop? Who will we be uneasily okay with murdering next?

  8. I am not a parent but am someone with a disability. I say this only to qualify my responses here, though not sure why being very upset and against murder needs qualifiers. I find it beyond sad that Kelly never really tried to know her daughter as a person but seemed to be on a quest to make her into the daughter she thought she was supposed to have. Imagine not only how her daughter felt but how her other children felt. Is anyone else in the family speaking out? I’m sure many of us have had overbearing parents. Now imagine what it was like to not be able to communicate with that parent, not to be able to be heard or understood unless you did so in exactly the right way. It happens, and blaming the victim happens more often than not. All together now. Murder is wrong! If you’re overwhelmed, *you* can seek help. It’s OK to be overwhelmed. It’s not OK to continue to make that your martyr status.

  9. As the mother of a little boy who’s very much like Issy, I could never imagine intentionally doing anything to harm him let alone end his life. It’s my job as his mother to care for him, love him & nurture him for however long he needs me.

    If Kelli Stapleton was receiving all this assistance prior to harming her daughter than I honestly dont understand how nobody saw how overwhelmed she was becoming since its obvious these feeling and been building for awhile & didnt mention the possibility of placing sweet Issy into a group home.

    My son is only 5, behaves very much like Issy is described so I definitely understand what caregiver burnout feels like. However, we’ve already had his case manager & county health nurse tell us to start thinking about to possibility of needing to place him in a group home once puberty hits or once his level of care gets to be to much for our family to handle.

    In the end, I guess it boils down to exactly how you chose to handle the stress of raising a significantly disabled child. Do you seek out the resources that are available to help not only care for your child but to also maintain your own mental health. Or do you use your child’s disabilities as an excuse to isolate yourself & them from the world which results in horrible tragedies like this incident with Kelli & Issy Stapleton to occur.

  10. I am just a mom with 2 teenagers with disabilities. Murder is never right. It is ableism to someone else’s life as less
    I once hear the best explanation from a pwd about the issues with legal euthanasia. Which I realize this isn’t what this is about but related. It stuck with me.. I am going to do a poor job explaining this. When it is legal for reasons in having a disability or even heath issues related to disability many people will feel the obligated as they feel like a burden. That is may be excepted.

    When it come to this situation I just can’t even think about it. The absence of supports doesnt justify murder. How is it different than any other abuse situation that involves murder. It is the same to me as a family member killing thier own family due to thier own depression and issues. It isnt right. The pause I have is I wish there was supports in place to recognize the situation before it happened..

  11. Look, there are ways I ‘just click’ with my allistic kid that I don’t with my autistic kid. It is harder to start and to maintain that same kind of positive emotional feedback loop with my autistic kid.

    This is an unfortunate fact. It leaves me always feeling a little raw, and a little hungry for more of her–more understanding of who she is and what she is thinking and feeling, because that stuff doesn’t get passed as thoroughly and subtlely from her to me as it does from my allistic kid to me.

    It is in no way a justification for murder.

    It’s MY job to find the openings to establish that connection. It’s MY job to accept my kid for who she is, not who I imagine some neurotypical version of her might have been.

    It’s not her job to speak to me the exact way I have always imagined, or to show the emotions I want her to show, in the way I want her to show them. That is NO kid’s job.

    No matter how hard it seems for me to parent an autistic kid, it’s much much harder for that kid to live in a neurotypical world. My autistic daughter is the hardest worker I know, all day every day. She deserves a much more comfortable world, and a more forgiving and accomodating world would receive a ‘better’ version of her, once she could put her energy into just being who she is instead of trying to whittle her sharp points down so she can fit in a round hole.
    I am rambling and mixing metaphors here so I need to stop.

    Really, the solution to that woman’s problem was 100% free and 100% her responsibility: accept the daughter she has. Stop trying to change her, and start trying to find things she loves and enjoys about this daughter, right here. The real daughter, not the imaginary daughter-who-could-have-been.

  12. As an autistic adult, that was once an autistic child that had knock out drag out break downs in stores to the point my mother could only grocery shop at 1am otherwise I would be to overstimulated. I can understand parent frustration, but I can’t abide people seeing autistic children as a burden, or that we need to be fixed, or that we are some sort of new phenomenon. I even remember hearing one of my mom’s friends when I was a little kid, imply to my mother it might be a good idea if I didn’t live. Thank goodness my mother wasn’t a psychopath and understood my life was as valuable as any neuro typical childs.
    It really disturbs me how people speak about autistic folks. How they describe autistic people as ‘child like’, or even talk about us we are horribly violent and hateful and out to destroy the hearts and minds of our parents. Unless you’ve been a child, that has had the whole world screaming in your ears from day one, having lights burn your eyes, and hugs and eye contact feel like torturous pain, I think a child screaming and breaking down is pretty reasonable. I’m sure if this woman had killed a neuro typical child, everyone would paint her has an evil killer. But since it was a disabled child, people want to see her actions as reasonable because deep down, they don’t think autistic people should exist. We’re to inconvenient for them.

  13. I raised an autistic child whom I love dearly. I hear no compassion here for caregivers. Caregiver burnout is dangerously real. I belonged to support groups, went on medication, attended classes, read dozens of books, hundreds of articles, went to counseling, prayed—this and more to try to stay positive and healthy while raising this truly wonderful but rage-filled, impulsive, irrational son, unpredictable, and violent son. All of it helped tremendously at times. And all of it failed tremendously at times.

    The upheaval to our marriage, our other children is immeasurable. Scars are deep and lifelong. My son had the best counselors, group therapy, support therapies, medications, safe and loving home, and full support of extended family…and yet everyone suffered greatly in ways and degrees that no one can ever comprehend unless you live it for 39 years and counting. We were the pioneers of trying to get insurance coverage for all these things for him and I, but we’re not successful in my day.

    Each parent is different in their level of coping skills. To protect our children we must address each and every caregiver’s skill levels **just as much**as we address the various needs of the child. Most fathers go to work and have daily respite from the behavioral issues at home and school. Most families are financially drained with the costs of therapies, meds and counseling, as we were. Stress is off the charts every single day year after year. So of course some are going to fall apart, have nervous breakdowns, become alcoholics or drug addicts, and lose rationality under such weight—after all, we prepare for everything: driving, school, careers, proms, sports, you name it….but we do precious little to learn to be parents of neuro-typical children, and I know of no one who prepares for parenting an atypical child. We love them dearly, but we have no initial clue and learn as we go, often too little too late to keep home a calm and consistently healthy place.

    It never entered my mind to take my child’s life. but it did his many, many times. I just kept studying and striving to do the best for him and not neglect everyone else in our family. Even still, there was so much judgment of the child and family. There was untold amounts of rejection. There was finger pointing and victim blaming. And now there’s ableism. How we love to label to justify judging each other.

    If you are autistic but not as violent as other autistic people, don’t judge another parent who crumbles under the unspeakable weight their family is suffering. If your child is autistic and you are stronger than some parents, be grateful and then turn to another who isn’t and lift them up.

    If you haven’t experienced autism, stop rejecting those you don’t understand and learn about what it’s like. Volunteer at a horse therapy facility, or music therapy, etc. and see how exhausting just 8 hours a day for a month is. It will open the eyes of your heart and give you wisdom into the 24/7 world of a family like many in your communities and schools.

    Autism is a holy journey that is, for many, full of sink holes, Everest’s, volcanoes, and tsunamis—sometimes all by noon. Don’t judge. Stop criticizing. Try yo label less and give more. Give a helping hand, word of encouragement, patience, a hug, and a little acceptance and love. Even a sincere smile helps.

    Some lives literally are hanging by mere threads.

    1. I am an actual autistic person. What you wrote is disgusting. I have experienced caregiver burnout taking care of my mom who has dementia. I have never thought about killing her. Stop making excuses.

    2. I am autistic, and as kid I was very violent. Largely because my mother was very abusive and since I was a child I couldn’t cope.

      Unless you have been that autistic child treated like shit by everyone including your parents, you need to do better. I dont pity you and to be honest, you come off as extremely shady and many autistic kids are violent for reasons other than their autism.

    3. Autistic voices matter in this conversation more. They must be heard and you don’t get to police their experience simply because they aren’t as “violent”. That notion is absolutely disgusting. Blatant ableism and hatred is unacceptable. What this mother did is inexcusable, and supporting her is just as gross.

    4. “If you haven’t experienced autism, stop rejecting those you don’t understand and learn about what it’s like. Volunteer at a horse therapy facility, or music therapy, etc. and see how exhausting just 8 hours a day for a month is.”

      I’ve worked with autistic children and adults for years now, all of whom have had learning disabilities and some degree of aggressive behaviour, some to the point where they were confined to hospitals because it was so severe.

      I have experience what it’s like to WORK WITH autistic people. Not “experienced autism” – if you’re not autistic you can’t experience autism, that’s why you need to LISTEN TO THOSE WHO DO. It can be really difficult to experience violence and aggression of course, and when you don’t know why it’s happening that’s upsetting too, but it needs to be ensured that we as caregivers try our best to support the person and work through problems, not take over the whole issue and use it for ourselves to fish for sympathy and attention.

      This woman abused her daughter physically, psychologically from the age of TWO. Issy was not allowed to have real interests of her own, real friends, or even free time. Her every action was policed by ABA. This mother spent years lamenting her daughter’s neurology and way of being. She attempted to MURDER HER. She is STILL FISHING FOR SYMPATHY AND MONEY, EVEN AFTER WHAT SHE’S DONE.

      How the hell ANYONE can sympathise with her is beyond me.

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