I came across this heartbreaking story of a mother and her child with severe autism. Kelli Stapleton took her daughter Issy into a van and attempted to kill both of them with carbon monoxide. Thankfully both survived. Kelli is in jail. This is a terrible tragedy on so many levels.
What really stood out for me was this statement in the article:
Comments on the website for Autism Speaks, an advocacy agency, compared the mother to Hitler, who wanted to purge society of disability. Others said she should be tried on hate crimes charges for targeting someone with autism.
I do not condone what Stapleton did. It was wrong for her to do what she did. She will have that guilt the rest of her life.
But there is a place for compassion in this situation. Take the time to read her blog. Watch how her life was spiralling out of control.
Unless you have a child with severe autism, you cannot know what she was going through. Two of our children have severe autism. While we never wanted to kill them, our family would have crumbled if they did not go into a group home. It is not so much the severity of the outbursts as the constant physical, emotional and mental drain. There are only so many messes you can clean up, so many public meltdowns to control and so many advocacy fights that you can take on.
Caring for a severely disabled child has been compared to the PTSD that many soldiers suffer from. If a veteran did something like this, we would be upset but we would also have sympathy. We should have sympathy for this parent.
There was a reason that it was an attempted murder-suicide. She did not hate her daughter, she hated the battle of autism. She says in her blog:
I have to admit that I’m suffering from a severe case of battle fatigue.
I believe that and Amanda and I have both been there.
I do believe that she must be held accountable for her crime. It is unacceptable to kill a child even in the face of terrible stress.
But there is another crime that has taken place. Society must be held accountable for ignoring the mental health of families dealing with disabilities. There has been movement toward caring for the children but what about the parents? We have been to the breaking point many times. Who cares for us?
I am not talking about government programs. I am talking about community. I am talking about churches. I am talking about neighbours. I am talking about family.
Raising a child (or children) with severe autism is really, really difficult. It can easily break down the mental health of parents. Don’t wait for the parents to ask for help. Reach out and do what you can.