This is an entry for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The entire month of April (except for Sundays) I will be blogging through the alphabet on autism-related topics to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month.
M is for Murder
I have been dreading M. I don’t want to write this. I have to write this. This is one of the most important letters in the autism acceptance alphabet because this is the very worst outcome of autism awareness without autism acceptance. This is the grim truth about what happens when we are portrayed as pointless burdens who crumble marriages, bankrupt families, and destroy the lives of everyone around us.
When parents learn about their child’s diagnosis of autism and turn to others for help, they need hope and they need realism. They need to hear from people who have been living the life they are just beginning to realize they are also living and they need to hear from those voices that, yes, it is hard. But all parenting is hard. They need to hear that all parenting also has joy and satisfaction and they need to hear that they will find that joy and satisfaction, too. They need to find a community that is supportive when parents need to vent about how difficult it is but also a community that does not condone hate speech toward innocent children.
Sadly, what too many parents find is a community filled with gloom and doom and endless complaint. They too often find themselves in a community of people who portray themselves as martyrs and victims and their beautiful children as abusers and punishments.
Some parents manage to rise above the negativity. In What I Wish I’d Been Made Aware of When My Daughter Was Diagnosed With Autism, Ariane writes, “Disregard any organization that describes autism and your child as tragic, an epidemic, a burden or any other word generally reserved for warfare. If you read or hear something that causes you to feel fear, walk away, it is most likely inaccurate and intended to make you afraid. None of us are able to help our children when we are terrified. Fear can cause us to make decisions we will later regret.”
This is the voice of experience. Ariane is a strong ally to her Autistic daughter, Emma, and to the entire Autistic community, but she has written about the regrets she has over past beliefs that came from a place of fear. Emma’s family was living in fear because their first exposure to autism consisted of doctors, organizations, and a community of parents who were also filled with fear instead of acceptance. Emma’s parents, Ariane and Richard, were afraid, but they also saw so much in their daughter and when they finally met Autistic adults, they were eager to learn from us.
Emma’s family are not the sort of people to get mired in feelings of victimhood. I know a little bit of the family’s history and I have a huge amount of respect for everyone in the family — they have all been through so much, long before Emma was born, and they are strong survivors. They are the kind of people who find their way out of shadows of fear. Too many other people get stuck in those shadows and the children suffer as a result.
Sometimes parents (or other guardians) are s frightened and stuck that they kill their children. The parents are so filled with despair and grief that they decide it would be better if their child were dead. Sometimes those parents also try to commit suicide along with their child. Some succeed, but most times, those suicide attempts are half-hearted and unsuccessful, mere gestures. Sometimes the parents don’t intentionally murder their children. Sometimes they kill them accidentally through the application of brutal “treatments” such as chelation or bleach enemas. I’m hoping you’re asking yourself right now how any parent could give their child a bleach enema. The answer? Fear. Love is stronger than fear, but fear can hide love too well for the power to take effect.
The reason I am writing about autism acceptance — the reason our whole community is making such a lot of noise about acceptance — is because awareness without acceptance is deadly. Literally deadly. Awareness without acceptance is fear. Fear of autism hurts Autistics. A culture of fear leads to murder. We haven’t got complete records of how many Autistics get killed by their parents of caretakers, but the 2015 Day of Mourning vigil website says that over 70 people with disabilities have been murdered by their parents or caretakers in the last 5 years. That’s more than one per month.
The first murdered Autistic I became aware of was Marcus Fiesel, killed at age 4 in 2006. Marcus loved flowers and Bob the Builder. Everyone who knew him said he was a sweet and lovable boy. His mother was having a hard time keeping the household together, so Marcus was in foster care. His foster parents wanted to go out of town so they put tape on Marcus’s mouth and wrists and rolled him up in a carpet and locked him in a closet while they left town for the weekend. Marcus died from overheating and suffocation.
As devastating and depressing as it was to read about the murder of Marcus Fiesel, in the decade since then, I have watched person after person murdered. It is easy for me to believe that the killings happen more often than once a month because I see the news stories every month, sometimes two in a month. There are a few isolated killings that get a strong public reaction of outrage toward the killer — the most recent was when London McCabe’s mother threw him off a bridge to drown. But more often, the reaction I see in the comments under news stories are horrifying to me.
People defend the killers. They say that it is “understandable” that they “snapped” because we are such “burdens.” The ableism is thick and I have learned to avert my eyes from the comment sections under these news stories because it is so angering and distressing to see so many people justifying the murder of people like me.
Emily Willingham wrote, “It’s become typical, again and again, for parents who murder their autistic children to get some kind of a “pass” from the commentariat and the news media because, well, autism is such a challenge” That’s in part because some autism organizations and members of the news media have successfully presented autism as a “monster” and a “kidnapper” instead of as the developmental condition that it is. So in the public mind, an allegedly overwhelmed mother with “ no supports” should certainly be pitied and not judged harshly for killing the “monster.”” – from If a Parent Murders an Autistic Child, Who Is to Blame?
Shannon Des Rocha Rosa wrote, “Our autistic children’s lives are no less valuable than other children’s lives. But they are often harder, especially when parents focus on normalizing or curing autism, rather than supporting and understanding children who depend on them. […] We need to, must do better by our autistic children. We must do our best to support and understand them and their autism, and stop torturing them by trying to turn them into the non-autistic child they will never be. Specifically, if you cannot accept your child’s autism for their sake, then please — do it so your role as a parent will be easier. If that’s what it takes to stop someone from killing their autistic child, so be it.” – from We Cannot Excuse Parents Who Kill Autistic Children
Michelle Sutton wrote, “The reason people feel sorry for me when they find out my kids are autistic is that they don’t know anything about autism except that it makes them hard to live with. They know this because the media tells them.
“And this is what I’m talking about when I say “autism awareness” doesn’t help autistic people, and that the media has no place blaming autistic children for their own murders.
“So instead of listening to the facts being spoken by autistic people and their allies, people listen to the media tell them that autistic people are violent and difficult to live with. So society moves down the slippery slope of assumption until it reaches the point where vilifying children based on a diagnosis is acceptable.” – from Autism, Stigma and Murder
And this is why we need autism acceptance. Autism awareness kills. Autism awareness stigmatizes. Autism awareness blames Autistic people for the crimes others commit against us.
Autism acceptance welcomes us to be part of the big human family: respected, valued, protected.
We need to build a world where parents learning about their child’s diagnosis are welcomed into a community of love and support, not of fear. We need to build a world where a huge organization cannot vacuum up all the available donation money by telling us that Autistic children are “like lepers” and their parents are “like Saint Francis of Assisi.” We need to build a world where it is unthinkable for people to side with a murderer and blame their victim for being such a “horrible burden” that killing them was “understandable.”
We need to build a world of autism acceptance.