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.