Murder of Autistics: Understanding, Advocacy, Excusing

As H.L. Doherty writes, a mother killed her severely autistic child and herself. This is not the first murder/suicide where autism is involved, and it sadly will not be the last case I’m afraid. Doherty goes on in his post to shame autistic advocates who doubt that severe autism was the reason for this murder/suicide. I have to agree with the autistic advocates, in part: while circumstances can drive a person to murder or suicide, it is not like autism parents somehow need extra sympathy if they’ve killed their children. All parents of disabled children, and disabled people of any age themselves need understanding and support.

Let me tell you my experience. In 2007, I was quite severely disabled by my autism. I was aggresssive and self-injurious, including smashing my head into the brick walls of my apartment and trying to jump out of a moving car. I wasn’t being taken seriously by the crisis team, who said that admission to a hospital would not be good either. On November 2, I threatend suicide in my parents’ city, and the crisis team there took me seriously and admitted me to hospital. I got slightly bettter there, but still struggled. After years of having many meltdowns, I finally found medication that helped reduce my irritability. I have a post in the works about my changing attitude towards medication, recognizing that many autistic advocates are against the type of medication I take.

By 2015, I may or may not fall under the Long-Term Care Act. If I do, I’m entitled to residential care for as long as I need it. If I don’t, I need to get support at home, which I got a lot of already when I was in this severe state in 2007. Please note that I was quite aggressive and self-injurious all my life, and that it just escalated in 2007.

Please also note that I’m not the most severely autistic person imaginable. For one thing, I don’t have an intellectual disability and am mostly verbal. I do not claim to know what it is like to have an intellectual disability or be completely non-verbal. What I do claim to know about is the despair of having to deal with complex needs in a system that is facing massive budget cuts.

That being said, of course we need more supports for people with complex needs, including those with more severe autism than mine. Of course we need to understand how hard it can be to care for a person who has these complex needs. What I ask Doherty, however, is to also understand those people who live with significant disabilities.

Please understand, Mr. Doherty and supporters, that we don’t choose to be self-injurious, aggressive or have complex care needs for other reasons. We agree with you that more support is needed. I, for one, am realistic enough to admit that some people need drugs to curb severe aggression. (I take a high dose of an antipsychotic to prevent milder irritability, but I am not going to advocate that children or adults who can’t consent are forced to take this.) I, for one, have myself been suicidal, so I know what it’s like to want to end your life because of lack of care.

Where I disagree with Doherty and his supporters, is where he connotes that auitsm is the cause of murder/suicides like this one, in a tone as if to say that, as long as severely disabled autistics exist, we’re asking to be killed, or at least that killing us is understandable. And it is not. Writing about murder as if it’s somehow provoked by the victim’s disability, is denying the disabled victim the basic human right to life. It is not the call for support we, the autistic community, are fighting against, or even the fact that people with severe autism and an intellectual disability exist. However, I ask that Doherty et al. please stop excusing murder just because it offers an opportunity to advocate. No-one should be murdered. Stop excusing it.

One thought on “Murder of Autistics: Understanding, Advocacy, Excusing

  1. The problem with those who blame parental murders of children with disabilities is that it is not restricted to autism: just this past week, four children with physical disabilities were murdered, three of them in my neighbourhood (New Malden), who had spinal muscular atrophy and were aged three (twins) and four, and a twelve-year-old girl with osteogenesis imperfecta in Arizona (her mother also killed herself; the mother of the New Malden children tried but failed). Those children could not have been attacking their parents; a girl with brittle-bone disorder would harm herself more than her intended victim, while three young children (let alone disabled ones) are no match for the strength of any adult.

    I do agree that stress or lack of support (and in one or two cases harassment/hate crime) can be a factor, but there have been other cases where it was not. Sometimes the killer was not even the child’s main carer, and other times they claim the victim was in pain when they in fact weren’t. There have often been suspicious elements that give the impression that these were not “stress” killings; in the case in New Malden, the family was wealthy (five-bedroom house which had just been refurbished) and had at least two hired helpers. The young autistic girl whose mother tried to kill her last year (Issy Stapleton) had just come back from six months in residential treatment, where the mother claimed she was making progress, yet she tried to gas her to death.

    I think the reason for the sympathy is that the public sphere is dominated by the views of people who are parents, and they tend to identify with each other. Many of them will not second-guess the decisions made by parents as to what they deem the best for their child, because they would not want others second-guessing theirs. I have often heard of children suffering needlessly when they could have been helped, because the other adults who could have helped put their loyalties first, and I have come across this in my own family with regard to the decision to send me away (and to keep me in a place where they knew I was being abused). And it’s taken as read that raising a disabled child is the most difficult and thankless job imaginable, and who would blame them for wanting to get out of it? While we identify with the children who were murdered, because we live with the conditions they live with, with the stigma others attach to them, and we have to live with others’ decisions about our lives, like they do (or did).

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