When Is It Okay to Chain Your Child to a Bed?

chain with padlockThe answer should be obvious, right? Never. Never is it okay to chain your child to a bed and leave him alone, crying out for someone to give him water.

This is what happened in Australia where a mother chained her 16-year-old Autistic son to the bed and left him there alone while she went to the store. If you are upset for that young man, good! You should be! I’m upset on his behalf but I’m also upset and disturbed that, once again, I witness the trend of empathizing with the abusive parent and virtually ignoring everything about the child.

The Facebook administrator for Autism Awareness Australia gave mere lip service to the suffering of the young man and focused most of the spotlight on the mother:

A horrific story…..for everyone involved. Whilst no parent should do this to their child, we can only imagine the desperate situation this woman must have found herself in.

This is a time for compassion not condemnation. This mother must have felt so isolated, let’s not isolate her further.

This is yet another case of the appalling lack of services across Australia. Surely we can do better.

We will be appearing on Sunrise on Channel 7 at 7.15am to discuss.

This was the opening volley in what has turned out to be a war of words between, on one side, Autistic adults and parents who feel compassion toward their Autistic children and, on the other side, parents who probably love their Autistic children very much but feel that it is more important to protect the mother in this case. One can’t help wondering if they feel so strongly about protecting the mother for fear that they, too, will one day be caught chaining their child up….or worse.

Some of the people defending the mother’s actions pointed out that the news article said that the teen had run out of the house naked on several occasions. I am stunned that anyone would consider that a valid defense for chaining a teen to a bed and leaving him alone without water. As activist Kassiane S. of Radical Neurodivergence Speaking pointed out in the Facebook discussion, “There was an Autistic girl in the united states whose parents chained her to a bed, because just like these parents they were abusive wastes of carbon. Her name was Calista Springer. notice the past tense. Calista Springer died in a house fire, because her abusive waste of carbon parents CHAINED HER TO AN EFFING BED and then the house caught fire.”

The case of Calista Springer is a concrete example of why it is so heinous to chain an Autistic teen … hell, to chain anyone … to a bed and leave them there helpless. Calista paid the ultimate price for the abuse she was put through. Chaining a person to a bed is abuse. Chaining a person to a bed can kill them. If a person dies because they were chained to a bed, the person who locked them there is guilty of manslaughter but should be tried for murder in my opinion. The Springers were charged with felony murder, torture, and first-degree child abuse and convicted of the latter two charges while the murder charge was dropped.

Calista was held to her bed in the Springer’s Michigan home with a dog’s choke chain wrapped around her waist and the door to her room was locked with a deadbolt on the outside when the house caught on fire from a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner while only Calista and her mother were home. Mrs. Springer escaped the house but left Calista trapped where she died from smoke inhalation on February 27, 2008. Mr. and Mrs. Springer were sentenced to 35 to 65 years and 27 to 65 years respectively. That is how serious the crime of chaining up a child and leaving them helpless is. That is how serious this recent Australian case is.

Yet Autistic adults were chided to stop “conducting a court of public opinion” and wait until “all the facts are in.” Could there be any facts that justify chaining a teenager to his bed and leaving his alone and thirsty? It frightens me that any parents would feel it is more important to be gentle with a mother who would commit such an act against her own child than it is to be concerned about the well-being and ongoing welfare of the young man to whom such things were done.

And to defend these actions by pointing out that the young man ran outside naked? Yes, that is a problem but it is a very small problem compared to the massive human rights violation of unlawful imprisonment.

Nearly thirty years ago, my friend’s son used to run outside with no clothes on. He did it often. If you turned your back for a moment, he had stripped off his clothes and made a dash for it. I tried to help his mother, but even two adults weren’t enough to keep him clothed. Should his mother have chained him to the bed, vulnerable to dying in a fire?

No, of course not! She would have been deeply offended if anyone had seriously suggested it. As a result, her son grew up and now he works as a forest firefighter. Calista Springer perished in flames; the Australian teen was vulnerable to perishing in flames; my friend’s son saves many lives by extinguishing flames.

The difference? My friend’s son is not Autistic. And you know what? That shouldn’t make one bit of difference! In a truly just world, in a world of autism acceptance and understanding, in a world where people regard all others with respect and afford them the dignity all humans deserve, being Autistic would not be a death sentence. Being Autistic should not mean that other people — people with children much like you — are eager to justify your torture and defend your jailer by pointing out that you took off your clothes.

We, as a society, pat ourselves on the back for institutional reforms. We talk about the bad old days when mental hospitals put patients in cages and chains. We convince ourselves that these are the good new days when human rights are respected. But opening the institutions to the light of scrutiny and the fresh air of public concern has not stopped the violations. It has only shifted the location of these infringements to the homes and classrooms of some of our  society’s most vulnerable members.

Autistic children and adults are chained in bedrooms, locked in basements, left to languish and starve to death in attics. Autistic schoolchildren are locked in cupboards, sealed in duffel bags, handcuffed by the police for kicking a trash can. Have we made progress since Willowbrook? Yes. But the progress we have made is miniscule in comparison to the distance we still need to cover. We have emptied the snake pit but we have not eradicated the snakes. They have slithered out into every corner of society and we must name and acknowledge abuse and murder when we see it.

When we erase Autistic people from their own murders, we are feeding the snakes. When teachers can abuse Autistic students without consequences, we are feeding the snakes. When people feel the need to defend the murderers by saying the victims made them “snap,” we are feeding the snakes. We do not have the right to pat ourselves on the back for closing down the snake pits when we continue to feed the snakes.

So . . . when is it okay to chain your child to a bed? When they are Autistic? No. When they run outside naked a lot? No. When they have strong reactions to things or people in their life that include responses like hitting or biting? No. When you are really tired from/of taking care of them? No. When you don’t have services or support? No.

Like I said, it’s obvious … or at least it should be obvious. It is never okay to chain your child to a bed. There are no facts that could be later revealed to justify it. There is no exhaustion or lack of services that can rationalize it. It’s just not okay and if that wasn’t obvious before, I hope I have helped to make it a little more obvious to you. It is not okay to abuse or kill your children and it is not okay to say that it is “understandable” or to erase us from our own stories or to call a murder “understandable” or a “mercy killing.” And just in case I was not crystal clear:

It is never okay to chain your child to a bed.


31 responses to this post.

  1. Reblogged this on Spectrum Perspectives and commented:

  2. Oh my gosh, I am so with you. It is NEVER OK. I do not feel any sympathy or empathy for that parent; they showed none for their child, which is unbelievable, and as you point out, deserves punishment. So sad :(

  3. “A horrific story…..for everyone involved. Whilst no parent should do this to their child, we can only imagine the desperate situation this woman must have found herself in.
    This is a time for compassion not condemnation. This mother must have felt so isolated, let’s not isolate her further. This is yet another case of the appalling lack of services across Australia. Surely we can do better.”

    Of course we can do better. This is most certainly a time for condemnation. If not now, when? This is not about lack of services. This is one way that this parent was abusive to her son. It also speaks to her frame of mind regarding disabilities, specifically Autism, and specifically her son.

    People are condemning her actions because they’re compassionate for the boy, as the victim, as they should be because, well, this woman is not a victim. Her son and his Autism didn’t victimize her. She chose her life, to be a parent, and all that could entail. She chose how to treat her son.

  4. So sad. I was reading an article about an abuse case after this, and I wondered how people would react if you substituted other kinds of abuse into their comments.

    “She beat her child unconscious… Whilst no parent should do this to their child, we can only imagine the desperate situation this woman must have found herself in.”

    “She starved the child for months… This is a time for compassion not condemnation.”

    “She broke three of his ribs and knocked out two teeth… This mother must have felt so isolated, let’s not isolate her further.”

    A bit different, eh?

    While I’m glad that we have reached the point where beating your child is no longer considered acceptable (and it did used to be, especially a neurodiverse child who was considered no more human than a dog,) we still have a long way to go.

    • You might be surprised. When the victim is autistic or otherwise disabled, even the kind of abuse and neglect you describe is often excused in exactly that way.

  5. Reblogged this on Another Spectrum and commented:
    When will the world stop thinking of those who care for the differently abled as victims, when in reality it is the person who is being care for that is frequently the victim?

  6. The crime must be punished, if only to make perfectly clear that such behavior is totally unacceptable.

    It is easy to have compassion for the victim.

    Compassion for the perpetrator is a much greater challenge. But if we dig deeply enough into the parent’s past we may well find a history of abuse, or challenges in parenting skills, or lack of adequate supports. That does not justify the crime, but it may make it a little easier to have compassion all around.

    • NO, damn it. No! I refuse.

      I refuse to waste any more time on issues like these unless it is spent punishing those who hurt us and establishing safeguards so less of us will be hurt in the future. I do not care about this woman or her motivations – especially now that I see she will not be charged! She not only abused her child – a person she was supposed to love and protect; she abused a neurodivergent child, who is likely just as flummoxed by the world as the rest of us sometimes are.

      Enough thought wasted on wastes of space. They must vanish into the ether as soon as they commit brutality. Their victims are the ones we should empathize with, every time. Every time. When a victim becomes an abuser, their chance is lost.

      • I think we are in agreement that, as I said above, “The crime must be punished,” and “It is easy to have compassion for the victim.”

        Where we may differ is in compassion for perpetrators, whom you say are “…wastes of space (who) must vanish into the ether as soon as they commit brutality.” Really? No chance of any rehabilitation? No provision for healing of their own wounds? No hope?

        And what about victims who grow up to practice what they were taught by their parents or caregivers? What about this young man if he grows up to chain his son to a bed because that’s the example he had? Would you say his “…chance is lost?” Would you have absolutely no compassion for him, now that you know his history?

        I’m not saying this to excuse the behavior. It is absolutely unacceptable and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. But can’t we still have some heart for a fellow human who happens to be a sick and disturbed perpetrator? Can’t we offer them the opportunity to heal as well?

        • Chances at redemption are provided before violence is perpetrated upon the disadvantaged. Forgive me, but as a member of a community that is routinely oppressed and violently attacked both in terms of mental and physical assault, there comes a time when one must say enough is enough. Would that we did not have to make choices such as this – but if this boy grows up to be an abuser, I would hope he would seek help. This woman went to the shops and still seems to have no grasp of the cruelty she has inflicted. That deserves no compassion from me, because she had no compassion for the boy who could have been me in different circumstances. I cannot retain any kind of psychological equilibrium and be at peace with her continued unrepentance.

    • You just proved the entire point of the post. You erased the boy in order to protect and show compassion, understanding for the abuser. If you can do that, relate to the child abusers and killers, then you’re tacitly approving of their behavior and you have no real clue how harmful your attitude is. This attitude scares me and breaks my heart.

      • You say that I “erased the boy.” I don’t believe so. I said it was “easy to have compassion for the victim.” So easy that I felt it was unnecessary to elaborate. I am deeply pained for him, and deeply troubled about what happened to him. I did not erase him.

        And I most definitely did not try to “protect” the abuser. I said that the “crime must be punished.”

        Having compassion for someone has nothing at all to do with “…approving of their behavior….” The behavior is totally unacceptable.

        Perpetrators must be held to account and punished or sanctioned where appropriate. But they can also be offered the opportunity to heal if they are able, even if that healing can only take place inside a prison or a psychiatric facility.

        I am also aware that some perpetrators may not be able to reform or heal due to their particular mental illness (possibly some psychopaths, for example). Perhaps those ones are in even greater need of compassion since their situation is without hope of improvement and their lives are essentially lost.

        And that compassion is not in any way intended to ignore, or take away from, the immense suffering of their victims, which I fully acknowledge, and which pains me very much.

        • “…those ones are in even greater need of compassion….” by that I mean the perpetrators who are incapable of healing, compared with perpetrators who are capable of healing. I don’t mean compared with the people they abused. Our greatest compassion, protection, and help, must go first to the ones who were abused.

        • I think you are missing the point. Whenever discussion about the abuse of autistics occurs, the empathy is invariably for the perpetrator and seldom for the victim except as a secondary consideration. There is very little empathy for the difficulty an autistic faces in living in a neurotypical world. I can vouch for the fact that it’s as difficult for the autistic, if not more so, as it is for a perpetrator. If the victim had been “normal”, but subject to the same abuse, where would the public’s empathy lie? I am certain it would not be for the perpetrator. Why should this case be any different?

          • Okay, thanks Barry for alerting me to the problem. I think the point of Sparrows post is that in situations involving autistic dependents, invariably the media and the public jump to defend the abuser and dismiss the person who was abused. I’m not disputing that. It is very, very wrong and sickening.

            I think I appear to be “missing the point” because my first comment was in response to a couple of commenters who seemed to express no compassion whatsoever for the abusers. I was not responding to Sparrows post itself. I should have been clear on that.

            My point was that while it is easy for the readers of this blog to have compassion for those who were abused, the real challenge is to have compassion for the abuser since it is so easy to hate and despise them. But they are humans, too, and many have histories of abuse themselves. So I believe compassion is in order all around in these tragic situations, but certainly never at the expense of the abused person because they should be our first concern.

            I was in no way defending or excusing or trying to justify the abusers. I did state that they should be held accountable for their horrible actions.

            In my first comment, I should have made it clear that I was responding to a couple of the comments, and not at all directly to Sparrow’s post. I am in agreement with Sparrow.

          • No. Simply put, no. You’re trying too hard to be understanding and compassionate for the abuser in a very misguided attempt to show how progressive and enlightened you are. I’m sorry, but it still comes across from the wrong side of the ethical and moral fence, and comes across as cold and unfeeling. It still amounts to being an abuser’s apologist.

            Give the victims some credit. Not all of us abuse victims perpetuate the cycle.

            For those who are coping with disabilities, they’re always going to be 2/3 more likely to be abused their entire lives. By “loved” ones and strangers alike whow have never been abused. You simply have no idea.

          • Barry, thanks again for alerting me to the fact that I was “missing the point.” I didn’t fully grasp the extent to which I was missing it until I had thought about it for a couple of days, and then the light finally went on. I posted an apology on November 13, 2015. I really appreciate your kind help in this matter.

          • Bruce, you were doing no more than reflecting society’s attitude to the autistic and their carers. While society’s attitude is that those on the spectrum are somehow “subnormal” instead of simply being different, then the pressures that are put on carers will continue to lead to incidents of abuse. Autism isn’t a problem. Society’s attitude to it is. Change that, and the incidents of abuse will fall dramatically.

            Society’s attitude to autism is compounded by organisations such as Autism Speaks, which paints carers as victims of an “autism epidemic”. So long as carers are seen as victims of an “epidemic”, the interests of people such as myself will continue to take second place. This attitude must change.

      • Jessica, please see my comment below that begins “First of all….”

  7. Reblogged this on awakenedindigosoul and commented:

  8. First of all, Jessica and Cara, please let me apologize if I have inadvertently touched a sensitive nerve or triggered any disturbing memories. With hindsight, I can see that it was insensitive, and stupid, for me to suggest compassion for abusers on a blog where people obviously needed to vent their anger and rage at yet one more horrible case of abuse.

    I find these reports of abuse to be every bit as horrible as anybody else does, and I wasn’t in any way trying to excuse or justify the behavior of the abusers.

    I simply wanted to encourage people to try and find a little bit of compassion for all people, including abusers. However, this was obviously not the time or place to do that. I can see that now, but I missed it when I first began typing. Sometimes I am astonished as to how socially inept and clueless I can be. Diving in as I did at this time, on this blog, was yet another stupid social blunder.

    And I am astonished that I did something like that yet again – especially since I genuinely want to be kind and considerate to people. I was not kind or considerate to suggest that people in the midst of venting their rage over abuse should be compassionate to the abuser. So in a way, I fear I was inadvertently abusive myself. And for that I am very sorry.

    For me, compassion is like love, the more you give, the more you have to give.
    I can easily and readily have compassion for anyone who has been abused.
    Having compassion for abusers, which can be an extremely hard thing to do, does not detract in any way from my compassion for the people who are abused.

    Thanks for replying to my comments. I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts with me.

    To Jessica and Cara and anyone else who was offended, please accept my apologies.

    • That was beautiful, Bruce. Thank you.

    • Thank you for your ability to evaluate what you’ve said – which is not an easy thing, mind – and adjust your thinking, even slightly. I certainly hope I didn’t attack you personally, and if I did, I apologize wholeheartedly. Just, I think it’s understandable that as a community, autistic people see the same pattern of empathy for the abuser (from the general populace, not you personally) repeat again and again, and it shortens our fuses even for people who mean very well in their statements. Best of luck to you and my thanks for your courage in being able to look at the situation in a slightly different way.

      • Thank you for your understanding, Cara. Very generous of you. And I did not feel you were attacking me personally at all, you kept to the topic, so no need for an apology at all, but I do appreciate your concern. Thank you.

    • Thank you, this was very kind. I appreciate that reevaluated your original comments. I also apologize if I seemed more aggressive than I ought to have.

      • Thank you for accepting my apology, Jessica. I fully accept yours, too.
        I can now see why people would have found my comments upsetting. Thanks again for sharing your response to them.

  9. […] This week, the Australian community was shocked with multiple stories about the abuse, torture and murder of autistic children. It was a hard week, with the usual responses from parents and service providers sympathising with the perpetrators, and using this as an opportunity to talk about services. Sparrow Rose Jones wrote an exceptional piece in response on Sparrow’s blog, Unstrange Mind […]

  10. Posted by morentin1326 on November 22, 2015 at 11:01 am

    wtf is wrong with people???? I have 2 and they both are runners/elopers and they are not children (young adults), no way I would ever chain or enclose them. I watch them 24/7 and I sleep in the living room to make sure they are safe… where I go, they go. No one should ever have the right to treat another human being this way. It pisses me off to no end when people think just because a person is autistic they are less than… My kids are my world, it is my job to love them, protect them, care, provide and assist them… not to harm them or put them in danger.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: