On May 13, 2006, Karen McCarron killed her 3 year old daughter, Katherine.
In July 2010, Saiqa Akhter strangled her 5 year old son, Zain, and her 2 year old daughter, Faryaal, then called a 911 operator to confess. Zain died at the scene and Faryaal died the next day.
In September 2008, Allen Grabe shot his 13 year old son, Jacob.
In September 2013, Kelli Stapleton was charged with attempted murder of herself and her 14 year old daughter, Issy, by carbon monoxide poisoning. Issy was put into a medically-induced coma to treat her injuries, and doctors were concerned about the possibility of brain damage.
In June 2013, Dorothy Spourdalakis murdered her 14 year old son, Alex, with the help of caretaker Jolanta Agata Skrodza.
In March 2012, Elizabeth Hodgins shot her 22 year old son, George.
In April, 2010, Daniel McLatchie shot his 22 year old son, Benjamin*.
These children and young adults have two things in common.
First, they were autistic, or their parent thought they were.
Second, their parents killed them at least in part because they were autistic.
Stephanie Rochester first attempted to kill six month old Rylan, who she believed to be severely autistic, by placing a plastic Target bag and baby blanket over his face while he slept. This failed to suffocate him. She then went downstairs and had dinner with her husband as if nothing had happened. Allegedly, they talked about wanting to have fun in life, which Stephanie said they could not do while caring for a severely autistic child. Stephanie then went back upstairs and tried again, this time putting three baby blankets atop Ryan's face. Then she went downstairs to help her husband pack for a vacation they were planning. However, this attempt also failed. Finally, while her husband was asleep, she managed to kill Rylan by putting adult blankets over his head.
Saiqa Akhter confessed to a 911 operator: "I killed both of them. They're both not normal, not normal. They're autistic, both autistic. I don't want my children to be like that. I want normal kids."
Dorothy Spourdalakis and Jolanta Skrodza left a 3 page letter describing the difficulties of caring for Alex, who was severely disabled, required full-time care, and went into violent rages whenever he had to go to the hospital. Dorothy reported that Alex had gastrointestinal problems, the pain from which provoked his rages, but news reports do not explain the nature of these problems. According to prosecutors, Alex's murderers "thought he had received inadequate medical care, and wanted to put him out of his misery." (Sources here and here).
According to a state police sergeant involved in the case, Daniel McLatchie, who shot his 22 year old son to death, was "upset about what would happen to his autistic son after he and his wife died."
After Ulysses Stable stabbed his 12 year old son to death, he called the police and said, "I've terminated the life of my autistic child."
A pathologist in Pekin, Illinois, suffocated her 3 year old daughter by putting a trash bag over her head. In court, when asked whether she realized she was murdering her child, she answered, "No." Asked whom she thought she was killing, she replied, "Autism."
In some cases, the parents themselves did not point to autism as a cause. However, the news reports describing the case indicated that it was.
For example, reports on the Stapleton case note that Kelli Stapleton blogged extensively about her struggle and sometimes despair while raising Issy, who occasionally attacked her mother, twice badly enough to send her to the hospital. The attempted murder followed a meeting with the local school district in which Kelli and her husband learned Issy could not attend the local special education program that year. (Sources: here and here).
According to friends and coworkers, Karen McCarron was convinced her daughter was not making sufficient developmental progress. The Chicago Tribune reports this as a possible cause.
Elizabeth Hodgins has not provided an account of her actions. The executive director of the Morgan Autism Center, which George attended from ages 6 to 21, did so for her. "But let me tell you," she said, "parents of kids with autism are under a terrific amount of stress. Many of these children don't sleep at night. They wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning, and one of the parents has to get up, because they need constant supervision. It's an exhausting experience."
Jacob's father, Allan Grabe, was described as having difficulty understanding and accepting his son's disability. The Denver Post noted that unlike his wife, Allan did not participate in local autism parent support group meetings. "Friends of the family" said Jacob's father "feared his son would never be able to live a normal life."
Most news articles frame these murders as an understandable consequence of the strain that autism places on parents. While some only subtly hint towards this conclusion, others blare it from their headlines:
- "Daughter's murder puts focus on toll of autism" (McCarron case, Chicago Tribune)
- "Mother murders her severely autistic child. Can such a killing ever be justified?" (Spourdalakis case, Albawaba)
- "Autism's terrible toll: Parents risk hitting a "breaking point" (Grabe case, Denver Post)
The Denver Post article, "Autism's Terrible Toll," deserves particular examination.
It lays out the thesis that murder is a reasonable response to the trials of raising an autistic child unusually explicitly, and in just two sentences:
"Jacob's father feared his son would never be able to live a normal life. So Jacob became another statistic in a sad, pressure-cooker reality for families with autistic children."
"Autism can make family life impossible," the author elaborates. "Parents get little respite. Costs of medicines can be staggering...parents can easily spend $50,000 a year on speech, behavioral and sensory therapies, pediatricians, medications for anxiety and attention problems, and alternative treatments, including traditional Chinese medicine, massage, and detoxification methods. Much of that is not covered by Insurance or Medicaid."
The article claims unspecified "experts" describe autism as "a maddening disorder of scrambled brain development that can lead some parents to snap."
So what heinous acts did Jacob Grabe commit to drive his father to the breaking point? He was, in fact, described as "high functioning." He had great difficulty making friends. He had trouble controlling outbursts. Silverware bothered him, and he could eat only from plastic forks and spoons. He could sense a storm coming several days out. He would get agitated and make strange noises. He breezed through complicated algebra but struggled with basic division. (Thank goodness my mother didn't know this last was reason for murder, or I might not be here today).
The article points out that "autistic children suffer abuse and are killed at higher rates than normal children. Studies have shown that about 20 percent of autistic children are abused, compared with about 1 percent of other children. Those who deal with the disorder place the abuse even higher." Yet the author quotes Betty Lehman, director of the Autism Society of Colorado, justifying child abuse by placing the blame squarely on the child. "For many families there comes a time when they can't take another minute of it," she said. "Even the most serene and loving parent in the world can have a breaking point with this."
Similarly, autistic children receive a substandard education in schools "ill-equipped to deal with" them because "autism can be so disruptive in a classroom that there aren't enough teachers trained to deal with it." The possibility that autism training simply may not be included in most teacher training for mainstream teachers was never even raised.
An 85 percent divorce rate statistic was provided without a source, let alone an attempt to determine how secure the marriages were before the child's diagnosis.
Media reports have even attempted to blame autism for a murder clearly triggered by psychological breakdown in a mother with a history of mental illness. Gigi Jordan killed her 8 year old son, Jude, and then attempted suicide. Jordan had a history of psychosis, and her suicide note said she feared a looming divorce and custody battle--all of which were delusions, as Jordan had divorced two years before, and no such custody battle existed. Yet author Dennis Vacco, writing in 2010 for The Daily Beast, said "her wealth apparently did not make her any more immune to the psychological breakdown that could conceivably be triggered by years of caring for an autistic child. Even the boy's father, Emil Tzekov, recognized the helplessness of the situation." Tzekov said after Jude's death, "to see him suffering...he was a good boy, but sometimes he would bang his head on the floor and scream and scream. He was in pain. His immune system was attacking his brain. She must have felt helpless." He does not explicitly say this justified Gigi Jordan's actions. Vacco does, and we are left to assume that Zvekov agreed.
Vacco then dips into advocacy: "one would hope that the publicity swirling around this tragic crime would focus a spotlight on the level of stress endured by parents of autistic children...that the case would stimulate a rational public debate about what families of autistic children endure, and how they can be better armed to cope with the agony caused by the disease."
Oddly, contrary to the examples we have seen here, the author believes that such "public discourse is missing." Interestingly, one such reason he cites is that people might be horrified by the idea of a parent killing their child.
Many parents of autistic children have expressed horror at both these murders and the media's interpretation of them (e.g.: Emily Willingham; Shannon Des Roches Rosa here, here, and here; Jenny Alice; Linda Mastroianni; Mum is Thinking, and AutismParents.Net). However, others have expressed "sympathy" for the parents.
Examples appear in a piece in the Traverse City Record-Eagle entitled "Parents of autistic children offer perspective."
"It was absolutely not the way to handle it," said Sherry Ginn Richards, who when her colicky son was a baby was so desperate that she went into the bathroom, banged her head against the window, put her head through the glass and sliced her head up "to dull my senses so I couldn't hear the crying any more." (This crisis led her to seek therapy for the entire family). "But when you get to that point," she said, "you can't think rationally. My heart goes out to them because I've been there, and I know what it felt like."
Eve Vawter, in her blog on Mommyish, wrote: "How easy it is just to judge these women. But I can't and you can't. Unless you are a parent of an autistic teenager who knows what it is like when there are no answers, and there is no magic formula, and there is little help, unless you can afford the type of care a child like Alex needed in order to stay in his home, with his mother who loved him. There are numerous Facebook pages now about Alex, now some in memoriam, and...still no answer for the how's and why's of autism. There is still no cure. We see the television commercials, with tow-headed adorable children with autism hugging their parents and playing simple board games, but rarely do we see the teenage boy with no verbal skills, strong and frustrated and prone to violent outbursts. We can't know, unless this is our child." (Eve Vawter, though a parent herself, does not have an autistic child).
Like Sherry Ginn Richards, Eve Vawter defends these parents because she identifies with them. "A UK newspaper posted the photographs of Spourdalakis and Skrodzka after their booking and I will look like them, these middle aged women who have the faces of middle aged women who have cried, the grief is so overwhelmingly evident on their faces."
In short: both the media and other autism parents defend parents who murder their autistic children, in the very same terms that these parents themselves used.
What Kills? Not Autism, But Ideas About Autism
However, many of these parents did not murder their children because living with an autistic child was so difficult, or because they lacked support. They did so because they viewed autism as a fate worse than death.
How can we know this?
First, these parents did not have an accurate idea of their children's condition, viewing it as far worse than it really was.
In some cases, parents thought their child was autistic when he or she probably was not.
Rylan Rochester was six months old, too young to be reliably diagnosed as autistic. Stephanie had been worried that she would have an autistic child while she was still pregnant. After Rylan was born, she became convinced he had severe autism. She claimed she could identify it in her son because she had worked for two years as a counselor with autistic kids at Children's Hospital. However, pediatricians said Rylan was developing normally. She did not believe them.
Saiqa Akhter's uncle, Wassimul Haque, confirmed that Zain was indeed autistic, and needed speech therapy. However, he did not think Faryaal was. She did have respiratory problems that sent her to the emergency room.
In other cases, parents thought their children had poorer skills, or were developing more slowly, than they probably were.
Katherine's two caregivers and occupational therapist testified that, contrary to Karen's perceptions, her daughter was doing well compared to many autistic children they saw, and was continuing to learn new skills.Despite this testimony from experts she trusted enough to employ, Karen remained convinced her daughter was declining, according to friends and coworkers.
Furthermore, these parents did not lack support. Indeed, several were offered support, and rejected it.
Karen McCarron had help from her mother, grandmother, and grandfather, as well as two paid, full-time caregivers in the home. Her daughter was receiving at least some educational services; she had attended a special school and had an occupational therapist, who testified in the case.
Kelli Stapleton's daughter, Issy, had just returned from an expensive residential care program.
In Saiqa Akhter's case, officials from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services had previously worked with the family for more than two months, linking them with community resources for Zain's speech difficulties and Faryaal's respiratory problems.
Dorothy Spourdalakis participated in Youtube videos on the Autism Channel, one of which featured Andrew Wakefield, asking for help seeking further treatment for Alex. However, when the Department of Children and Family Services offered her services in January 2013, she refused. She refused referrals to community-based services ranging from respite to psychological counseling, said a DCFS spokesman. Mary Betz of the Autism Society met personally with Dorothy and offered to help not long before Alex was murdered. However, Dorothy said "all she wanted was an attorney." Mary Betz found her one.
George Hodgins, whose mother suffered so much from having him at home all the time, had other options. He could have participated in the adult program at the Morgan Autism Center after he graduated from their school. However, Elizabeth said she wanted to find a more community-oriented program where her son could be out more in the world. She did not find one.
The one situation in which one might expect unprepared parents to be desperate is when a child is violent, posing a danger to himself or others. Of all these children and adults, only Issy Stapleton and Alex Spourdalakis were said to be violent.
How do we come to excuse murder?
Most would recoil in horror at the idea of a parent murdering their own child. So how did society come to excuse or justify it, simply because the child was autistic?
Certainly, there is a general attitude that the lives of disabled people who can't live independently are not worth living. This belief isn't specific to autism. For example, a 2000 study in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology found that 25% of people with cerebral palsy who were autopsied had been murdered. The same year, University of Alberta reported on 1094 cases of homicide against people with various disabilities, including 191 with cerebral palsy. For those with cerebral palsy ages 17 and under, 82% of those implicated were family members, mostly parents.
Some parents apparently believed the murder would go unpunished or would not be considered a serious offense, as in the case of a mother who did not get help for her daughter's pneumonia, "knowing that her daughter would die of respiratory complications and such a death would be considered 'normal' for a child with multiple disabilities." In other cases, parents blamed lack of services, as in the case of a father who "dropped his child from a twelfth-story window of a hospital in apparent anger because he felt the hospital was not providing adequate treatment." Perpetrators often claimed they "thought the victim was better off dead or that they just snapped under the strain of caregiving," even in cases that would seem difficult to rationalize in this manner. This study was released seven years before the formation of Autism Speaks in 2007.
Autism Speaks built on this foundational prejudice by justifying it, making it specific to autism, and spreading it throughout the media. Arguably, they helped create a culture that excuses murder, by sending the following messages:
1) All autism is the sort of severe disability that prevents people from living independently.
2) Such severely disabled people cannot live happy, meaningful, or worthwhile lives. Indeed, they no longer really exist.
3) If a child has autism, the parent's life will forever be so miserable that they will no longer really be living. A parent can no longer be happy so long as the child exists.
4) Because parents are so miserable, it is natural for them to fantasize about killing their child, or just letting him wander off and die.
These messages will be explored further momentarily. But first, readers may wonder: why lay all the responsibility at Autism Speaks' door?
Autism Speaks has the most revenue of any major autism charity. In 2009, their income of $69 million accounted for over 85% of the revenue raised by the top 12 revenue-generating autism charities combined. Autism Speaks grew rapidly during its first few years by subsuming other charities, including the Autism Coalition for Research and Education, the National Alliance for Autism Research, and Cure Autism Now. With their "call to action" as the centerpiece of a campaign for a national autism policy, Autism Speaks continues to position itself as the leading voice in autism research and policy. For this reason alone, its power should be taken seriously.
News outlets also frequently turn to Autism Speaks as a source of background autism information, such as statistics on the prevalence of autism.
Now let's examine how Autism Speaks lays out its four claims about the value of autistic people's lives.
Claim #1: All autism is a severe disability that prevents people from living independent lives.
This first message is implicit in Autism Speaks' fundraising, which represents all autistic people as children and as severely disabled.
Autism Speaks has historically emphasized the dependence of autistic people by portraying them primarily as children.
- In 2008, their website's estimate of the number of "autistic people" was identical to their estimate of the number of "autistic children," thus denying the existence of any autistic adults.
- In 2009, Autism Speaks' websites used only terms such as "child," "children," or "childhood" to describe autism, but not "adult," "adults," "or "adulthood." They also posted only photos of children.
In the interests of fairness, Autism Speaks is not the only charity that presents autistic people as primarily, or only, children. In 2009, Jennifer Stevenson, Bev Harp and Morton Ann Gernsbacher examined the photos appearing on the homepages of the state and regional chapters of The Autism Society of America, the leading autism support organization. Only 8 of the 49 chapters (or 16%) included any photographs of autistic adults, and each presented only a single one. In total, 95% of the photographs featured only children.
Autism Speaks appears to have shifted its emphasis recently, perhaps in response to public criticism after their November 11th "call to action." A news article added to their home page on December 8th reveals Scottish singer Susan Boyle's Aspergers diagnosis. On December 5th, 2013, a blog post featured on the home page profiled a "talented and generous 19-year-old jewelry designer on the autism spectrum," Bill Franklin III. He attended a camp focused on adaptive and independent living called Carousel Connections, which received a grant form Autism Speaks. When he returned home, Bill Franklin chose to donate a portion of his jewelry proceeds, not to Carousel Connections, but to Autism Speaks. On December 5th, Autism Speaks also launched a series of weekly posts called "Your Dollars @ Work," whose first post was entitled "Important Lessons from Successful Self-Advocates."
When parents and autistic adults complained about Autism Speaks' Call to Action, supporters of the organization replied in the comments that Autism Speaks was only talking about those who were most severely disabled, unable to work or live independently. Yet the Call to Action's statistics still refer to the total population of U.S. children on the spectrum, about "three million." The call to action says, "think about an America where three million Americans and counting largely cannot take care of themselves without help. Imagine three million of our own--unable to dress, or eat independently, unable to use the toilet, unable to cross the street, unable to judge danger or the temperature, unable to pick up the phone and call for help." Unwary readers were invited to assume that this dire description characterized all three million children (and possibly even the millions of unmentioned adults).
Anyone familiar with the broad spectrum of autism knows that it does not.
Incidentally, defining a word in the broadest possible way, then switching to the narrowest one when it suits your purposes (or vice versa) is a common fallacious argumentation tactic.
Claim #2: Autistic people cannot live happy, meaningful, or worthwhile lives. They don't even really exist.
According to Autism Speaks, autistic children do not exist.
From their Call to Action: "if three million children in America one day went missing--what would we as a country do?"
In the I am Autism video, a voiceover says, "I am autism...I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams."
In the Autism Every Day video, a male voiceover says, "it's like when your child dies, you know, there is a finality to that. But how do you mourn your child who's still alive? He's still alive and breathing, but the boy I thought would be there, the boy that I had in my heart and in, you know, in my thoughts...is gone."
According to Autism Speaks, autism is a malevolent entity that plots against parents and kidnaps children:
"I am autism. I have no interest in right or wrong. I derive great pleasure out of your loneliness. I will fight to take away your hope. I will plot to rob you of your child and your dreams."
Imagine a parent who truly believes that the child right in front of them no longer existed. How would they treat that child? Would they try to interact with the child? Would they listen to him or her? Would they notice any attempts the child made to connect or communicate? Would they even look for it--because how can you communicate with someone who isn't there? And how can you reinforce a language disabled child's attempt to communicate with you, however halting, when you do not expect them to communicate at all?
Those familiar with the autism community know that a divide exists between those who see autism as an inseparable part of how a person perceives, feels, and thinks about the world and those, like Autism Speaks, who see it as an alien entity that can be removed without harming the person "underneath." To those not already invested in the debate, this may seem like an academic issue. But it comes into chilling relief in one of the murder cases.
In court, an Illinois pathologist who suffocated her three year old daughter was asked whether she realized she was murdering her child. She answered, "No." Asked whom she thought she was killing, the mother replied, "autism."
If her words accurately describe her motives, this mother truly believed that "autism" was some sort of separate entity that inhabited her daughter, and that she could "kill" it without killing her daughter. Did she look at her daughter every day and see, not a person, but a monster? Unlike most parents who think this way, she took this ideology to a chilling extreme.
Claim #3: If a child has autism, the parent's life will forever be miserable. They will be "existing rather than living." A parent can no longer be happy so long as the child lives.
Autism Speaks' attitude towards an autism parent's life can be summed up in one quote from their call to action: "These families are not living. They are existing."
The "I am Autism" video elaborates on why they are so miserable:
"If you are happily married, I will make sure your marriage fails.Your money will fall into my hands and I will bankrupt you for my own self-gain.I don't sleep, so I make sure you don't either.I will make it virtually impossible for your family to easily attend a temple, a birthday party, a public park, without struggle, without embarrassment, without pain."
Many of the problems listed in Autism Speaks' call to action have in fact been described by autism parents, including those who detest Autism Speaks: Lack of sleep; lack of money; waiting lists for services; insurance not paying.
But here's how Autism Speaks expects them to react: "How much can we ask them to handle? How long will it be before the exhaustion makes them ill? How long before they break?"
In other words, Autism Speaks is portraying becoming sick and "breaking" from stress as the natural or only outcome.
What parent wants to live this sort of life? Is it hard to imagine that a parent convinced that this will be their future forever might see no way out other than to kill their child?
Claim #4: Because parents are so miserable, it is natural for them to fantasize about killing their child, or letting their child wander off to die.
In fact, officers in Autism Speaks have twice fantasized about killing their own children in media promulgated by the organization.
In a 2006 Town and Country piece featured on Autism Speaks's website, board member Laura Slatkin's husband, Harry, says, "We put locks on all the doors leading outside because we didn't want David possibly going into the pond. But there were times when--you hoped he did, because you wouldn't want him to suffer like this all his life."
(For those who wonder whether David does, in fact, suffer so much that he wants to die--all we know is that he suffers in one circumstance: he sometimes becomes frustrated by his inability to communicate, and bites himself or others. We can't know anything more, as David cannot communicate reliably, even with picture cards).
A more famous murder fantasy comes from the film "Autism Every Day," originally designed to be shown at a fundraiser for Autism Speaks. It was filmed by Lauren Thierry, ex-CNN anchor and mother of an autistic son. In it, Alison Tepper Singer, then the Senior Vice President of Autism Speaks, says after a failed struggle with her daughter's school:
"I remember that was a scary moment for me when I realized I had sat in the car for about 15 minutes and actually contemplated putting Jody in the car and driving off the George Washington Bridge. That would be preferable to having to put her in one of these schools."
She said she only chose not to because of the other, typically developing child.
Singer said these words in front of her daughter, who meanwhile asks if her mother is crying and tries to interact with her mother--but is pushed away.
In a piece for AlterNet by Jennifer Liss, Thierry defends Singer's sentiment: "If most mothers of autistic children, Thierry responds, look hard enough within themselves, they will find that they have played out a similar scenario in their minds. 'If this is not your reality, then God bless you,' she says."
It's worth noting that, like the murderers described earlier, at least some of the parents in the video (including Katie Wright and Alison Singer) had good support systems in place. Thierry, in fact, instructed subjects not to bring in therapists, which indicates that they had therapists to bring into the home.
In addition to the indirect justification provided by Autism Speaks' ads, a high-ranking Autism Speaks executive directly justified George Hodgins' murder to the press. Peter Bell, executive vice president of programs and services in 2012, responded to the Hodgins case by telling reporters that "caring for an autistic young adult can be difficult for parents." He did not add either that this was a criminal or a morally reprehensible solution to such difficulties.
Aside: A Fish Can't See Water
I have laid out the case that Autism Speaks' materials lay out an ideology that justifies murdering autistic children, and that the media and even some autism parents have used their line of rhetoric in exactly this way. In other words, Autism Speaks' rhetoric is harmful.
Some may say that, however harmful, it is accurate for at least some families.
At this point, we have left the realm of facts, statistics, and what can be proven, and enter the realm of how people experience, and interpret their experience.
Everyone would likely agree that raising a severely disabled child, autistic or not, involves immense struggle, time, energy, thought, expense, and sacrifice. Work becomes difficult when children require 24 hour care, or when they often and unpredictably have meltdowns and need to be sent home from school early. And some children have disabilities sufficiently severe that they may never speak, or graduate from college, or live independently. Parents must adjust to these facts, and hopefully come to terms with them.
But struggle and sacrifice can mean many things, depending on the story you choose to tell about them. Some autism families, like the Wrights, choose to see autism as an unremitting destroyer of lives. They see such a life of struggle as not worth living, and their child's life as not worth living, either. Yet many other parents with severely disabled children, while acknowledging their struggle, talk about their lives and their children very differently.
Such parents sometimes face disbelief and cruelty from acquaintances who have internalized perspectives like Autism Speaks'. For example, Beth Ryan reports that "I've been dubbed 'sanctimommy' and called a liar for saying that I am not jealous of parents of non-autistic children. I am quite literally an outcast for loving my child the exact way that she is." The power of Autism Speaks' ideas is so strong that such people, who have little familiarity with autism, believe them over the experience of someone they know and trust.
Some people simply find it hard to believe that a severely disabled person's life could have any value and that their parents' lives could be anything other than what Autism Speaks paints them as. Such people are like a fish in water: they do not even notice the medium in which they swim. Similarly, many people take these ideas for granted and don't even recognize them as ideas at all.
Not being either an autistic person or an autism parent, I can't speak directly to whether Autism Speaks' media is inaccurate as well as harmful, although I've written about the issue here. Instead, read their accounts and judge for yourself.
A few places to start:
A few places to start:
- The "This is Autism" flashblog shows how a variety of autistic adults and parents of autistic children experience the condition.
- "A hair-dryer kid in a toaster-brained world" is the first in a series of posts where Mom-NOS explains her son's autism to his class and answers their questions.
- In "My contribution to the 'This is Autism' flashblog," Zita describes both the ups and downs of raising an autistic child who needs a lot of support.
- "Autism Speaks, Your Negativity Is Only Making Things Worse" by Linda Mastroianni talks about her struggles and joy in seeing her son develop.
- "Milestones in Autism Land" by Muslimah Next Door describes the milestones that matter, both good and bad, for the parent of a child who isn't meeting doctors' milestones.
- "How my fears drove me to pursue a cure" by Emma's Hope Book, on her changing attitudes towards autism and her role as a parent.
- "From Obsession to Interest: Parents as Ethnographers" by Elizabeth Barrett concerns the transformative power of learning to see the world from your child's viewpoint.
- "Only Connect" by Kristina Chew, on what raising a child without much language is all about.
- "Empowerment and Validation" by Mind Retrofit on her path towards understanding and accepting her own and her children's autism.
- Anything Brenda Rothman has ever written.
A Tougher Question: Does Autism Speaks Cause Murder?
Autism Speaks spokespersons have presented murder fantasies as a normal part of day-to-day autism parenting. Its ads describe parenting an autistic child as so unrelentingly miserable that murder seems at least understandable. The media echoes this perspective in its coverage of these murders.
But does Autism Speaks cause these murders?
We've seen that these parents' actions stemmed not from their children's true condition, or a lack of real support, but from their views of their child's autism. And we know Autism Speaks promulgates exactly such views. But this does not necessarily mean the parents specifically killed their children because of Autism Speaks ads. These parents may never even have seen the organizations' ads at all, but only have encountered their content percolated through the media, friends, and family.
Furthermore, many parents see their children in the same light as Autism Speaks does, and yet have not murdered their child.
So no, I don't think we can conclude that Autism Speaks causes murders, only justifies them.
And that's bad enough.
*Please note that the long list of murders mentioned here is far from complete; it only represents what I could verify within a short period of time. A more complete list can be found here. The most complete autism-specific list is probably the livejournal Autism Memorial.
UPDATE 1/4/2016: Every year, disability groups participate in the annual Disability Day of Mourning on March 1st, to commemorate the lives of murdered disabled people. You can join virtual vigils (and view past years') here.